My daughter Carmel is an old soul. That means she was born smarter than me. She never cried as she slipped into this world. She just looked around the delivery room as if to say, “So this is it, eh? Good deal.”
On the other hand, my son Nate is a new soul. That means I have to prove everything to him. He took one look at the doctor who delivered him and bawled in dismay. However, a few seconds later, he decided that women were a-okay and charmed the nurse who gave him his first shampoo by peeing on her smock.
When Carmel was a baby, I poured honey on her hands, set her in a playpen and handed her a tissue. Figuring out how to throw it away kept her busy long enough for me to do the dinner dishes.
When Nate was a baby, he’d eat the tissue, lick the honey off his fingers and scream for more before I got the table cleared.
Carmel did everything early – whether I was ready for it or not. A reasonable child, she potty-trained herself in exchange for ruffled panties and a sock monkey.
Nate felt that time was on his side -- and that since he knew where I hid the candy in a vase on top of the refrigerator, hitting the leaf I tossed into the john wasn’t worth a green M&M.
I could point to an electrical outlet and say, “Don’t touch, Carmel. It’ll hurt the baby.” She’d accept my judgment on the matter and make a wide berth around the threatening wall fixture.
I never dared point anything out to Nate. If I did, he’d say, “Oh yeah?”, lick his finger and stick it into the socket just to see if my warnings were genuine or bogus.
When Carmel was eighteen-months-old, we had guests for dinner. Around seven, I put her to bed in her pink, fuzzy-fleeced sleeper. Forty-minutes later, when the party retired to the living room with Grand Marnier, she was standing stark-naked on the staircase with an enormous “0 1” drawn on her tummy in magic marker. “Hi,” she said posing with a hand on one hip and the other over her head. “I’m the number ten.”
When Nate was about two, we were alerted to trouble by beeping horns and telephone calls an hour after we put him to bed. Following a trail of Yoda-jammies, t-shirt and jockey shorts to the edge of the driveway, we found him dancing around in the buff – waving at cars driven by women, throwing rocks at joggers and trying to pee on a leaf in the middle of the street.
Carmel was a golden child who crawled into my lap one day and observed, “I like going to Pammie’s house because her mom is always baking cookies – but I like coming home because you are always laughing. After rewarding the little darling with a new sock monkey, I spent a few minutes adjusting my mother-of-the-year tiara and humming “Lady Madonna”.
When Nate was in kindergarten, the teacher called me to complain that my curly-headed son brought a copy of “Penthouse” to school for show and tell. Mortified, I asked him why. He told me he wanted the other kids to see the “beautiful ladies.” After grounding his father for poor magazine-collection-hiding skills and demanding the first of what turned out to be many father-son discussions, I sought solace in a package of oreos and a half-gallon of milk. (This was in my pre-tiramisu period.)
As they grew up, so did I. When Carmel went out driving in her new car and couldn’t find her way home until 2 A.M., I turned into my father – pacing the floor, worrying -- but when she burst through the door filled with the exhilaration of her great adventure, I rejoiced that she was safe – and that she was resourceful and independent. When Nate sobbed with frustration over a sprained ankle during track season, I grieved with him – and when he broke the school long-jump record anyway, I wept too – for his determination and courage.
And then – suddenly -- they were grown.
The nuns taught me that a mother’s role is to mold the minds of her children. That’s because they didn’t HAVE any children.
These beautiful people entrusted to me were amazing in their own right from the very beginning. They molded themselves. I was just a protective, loving bystander perfecting the act of letting go.