This morning Mara lounged around in bed even later than she usually does. Her little sister Millie, who now shares Mara’s room, wakes up early when she hears me knocking around in the kitchen or the bathroom and she is eager to be free of the double prison of the crib and her sleepsack, so she makes a lot of joyful or unjoyful noise until somebody gets her out. But Mara has reached the age where she appreciates that groggy sleep-in time and so does not leap out of bed anymore the way she used to. This Christmas even the Advent calendar with its cubbies containing gifts only got her out of bed early a few times before the urgency faded.
Although I don’t worry about this (and also, I know she is sleepy in the morning partly because Millie is a noisy sleeper during the night), I do feel some sadness. It’s like Mara’s a teenager already. Is she really so world-weary? I guess I’d like to believe that waking up should be an exciting prospect. I want that for my kids. Because I wake up already feeling old and tired and full of worries and regrets. I have to stop that train of self-slaughter before I get out of bed, reframe my existence, switch the dial of my mindset over to Gratitude, because no matter how often I set it there it soon finds its way back to the default, which is Pessimistic Discontent.
So Millie and my wife Angela were up and about, but Mara had remained in bed. I was hoping to catch the Early Bus, so I was eager to interact with her a little before heading off for a day in the salt mines. I poked my head in her room and saw that Angela had opened the blinds when she got Millie out of the crib, and the dim, bluey light of a cold clear winter morning fell gently over the form of my older daughter, who lay on her side facing the window, looking out at the young day.
“Hi.” The word was a drawn half-note. She sounded upset, despondent in that kidly way.
“I don’t know.”
I walked over and climbed onto the bed beside her, moved some wisps of her hair and hovered over her adorable moon-round face. “Are you upset? Are you angry?”
“Are you sad?”
“What is it then, can you tell me?
She thought for a moment. “Well…” She was quiet again. I thought something must really be digging at her. I wasn’t sure if she was about to cry or complain about something. I stroked her shoulder, waiting, trying to seem like it was not superimportant to me whether she spoke or not, just as though I were merely available.
And then she said, “I’m just realizing…”
Here she paused, and in that moment my head flipped over twice and made cartoony gibberty-flibberty sounds. I’d never heard her say exactly this before. Sure, she’s said “I just realized” before, but that’s not the same phrase. When I say “I’m just realizing…” it’s usually when something has been dawning on me for months or even years and I’m just now beginning to see it. A sort of wisdom is encroaching on my perennial short-sightedness. As an example, I’m just realizing that I have a habit of being kind of cursory and clipped in my pleasantries with people when there’s something that I want, but I am only just realizing this because I recognized a look of mild but sudden disorientation on the receptionist’s face at work the other day when we had been talking for a few minutes and she’d given me the information I needed from her and I suddenly said “okay thanks” and left. I probably have been doing this to people for decades and I am only now beginning to assemble from long, subconscious analysis of facial expressions an idea that people may still be enjoying a sense of conversation and camaraderie when I suddenly cut off my half of the mutuality flow.
But Mara is six. Hearing her say “I’m just realizing…” threw me for a loop. Part of me wanted to laugh, but another part of me was intensely interested in what she could possibly be beginning to sort of start to kind of have a dawning of a realization of, at six. I waited. In her right eye the brightening blue day gleamed. She smelled like youth, and some cornbread or something in her hair.
“I’m just realizing…that I have so many things. I don’t have anything more to wish for.”
“I have so much Playmobil. I mean, there are a few Playmobil sets that I want, but I have SO MUCH of it. There isn’t that much more to wish for.”
I was momentarily confused into thinking this was an expression of gratitude, of the satisfaction of having a plenty, but then I thought that she was experiencing a species of economic angst, intuiting the potential for a slowing of consumption as the Playmobil catalog failed to sufficiently outpace her attainment of its offerings. Her natural acquisitiveness, aggravated perhaps by the Christmas season’s whirlwind of wrapping paper torn from gifts, was being threatened by the fact that she could not imagine there being enough stuff to covet. In the post-Christmas anticlimax, this was a hard hit.
“Well…” I patted her shoulder and got up to continue my morning routine. “If you keep living life, I think you’ll find plenty more to wish for as you go. I wish I had more time. And more energy.”
In the kitchen I told Angela with a chuckle about the conversation I’d just had with Mara, and Angela pointed out in a whisper that the line about ‘nothing left to wish for’ was straight out of “Escape to Witch Mountain“, the old Disney movie we’d rented last weekend for our traditional dinner-and-movie in the living room. It was true. The character played by Kim Richards, a scratchy-voiced young actress I was extremely fond of in my young TV-watching days, speaks that line after she and her brother, orphans without relatives, are taken in by a millionaire. Mara was just trying on the phrase, said Angela.
It dawned on me then that, yes, Mara was probably testing how it felt to be wistful, to have that particular, Solomonian dilemma of satiation. But I’m not ruling out the possibility that she was also responding to her own experience of a meltdown in consumer confidence.