Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The tectonic plates of planet family shifted slightly in a new, but inevitable direction. I won't say I was waiting for it, or necessarily expecting it. But now that it's begun, I see no other way.

My 8.5 year old, Cate and I saw the Lion King Broadway production with a few other families from her Brownie troop. Though I know she wondered if she was too old for anything referencing the Lion King beforehand, the fact that her back never touched any part of the chair, that her lower jaw never met her upper and that she didn't tell me she had to go to the bathroom even once cleared it up for both of us that she most certainly was not too old, too young, too anything for this production. I'm pretty sure she thinks that they must have had her in mind when developing each costuming detail, every prop, every lyric, every note.

The only empty seats in the theatre were those cordoned off in preparation for the parts of the show meant to draw us in by being performed off the stage. It ended a bit after 9pm which is late for homebodies like us. Everyone walked out in a festive mood anyway. Like all the parents in the throng leaving their seats, as a grown up, I grew down a teense while watching this spectacle. Targeted at the wallet of my own demographic, but at the sensibilities of a dem south of my own, the show embedded its melodies in my suddenly youthful mind and I started to hum. I know it was not Hakuna Matata, because that would be just too, too. Something I can't recall. Everyone was humming with the only exception being those little enough to be carried through half asleep.

So I'm humming and then I start to sing. Not loudly, just mainly to myself and with just enough volume for Cate to hear. Maybe it was my way of telling her I liked it and thanks for taking me. Cate generally jumps on any train of silliness I engineer - as irregularly scheduled as such mom trains can be. But not this night. I wasn't to sing.

She turned slightly to me and cocked her head to soften the message, to demonstrate sympathy underneath the headline. She pulled back her semi smile at either end, another kindly gesture, and in a voice barely audible, a voice designed to guide with patience, she says "Mom." In the space I thought she'd fill with her own rendition of the song, she said "Mom."

My knees bent to maintain balance while the plate creaked, broke and shifted . Ah, it had to eventually. Well, I was a rare and lucky case to have had 8.5 years of being another person's main point of reference on everything, but it felt sudden, nonetheless. Yesterday she would have taken my singing in public as her cue to link arms and sing even louder and more off key herself. Today. Today she deemed it inappropriate.

Other theater experiences with her through the years snap in my mind. If we were a bit early for a show and already in our seats, she would start talking to the people behind us. Kneel up on the seat and just pick up talking as though the people behind us had been waiting for her to arrive so they could get answers to their burning questions, with no need to even ask them. No need for them to respond either, for she had an ad lib monologue to deliver. What she had to say was often very like the following:
Hi. This is my mom and I am Cate. My parents named me Catriona, but I'm called Cate. I am 4 (5, 6...)
My mom wanted to see this play because she read the book, but I didn't.
My mom's favorite color is orange.
She is not Chinese, but she can speak some Chinese words. We are actually Irish.
My mom knows how to make jewelery.
Sometimes you can't believe my mom because she always tries to fool people like in a joke.
She is a vegetarian but she does not know how to cook very much.
My mom has short hair because she likes it. She says we should be proud of our faces and keep them high and open to the air.
One time my mom's brother....
Today my mom told me.....
My mom has these shoes....

It was great while it lasted, being what a bright little human thought was the most interesting person in the world...to anyone and everyone. It's hard to go from that right to having to be taught by an 8 year old what public behavior is acceptable and what isn't. But she's a good, gentle, encouraging teacher who offers enduring knowledge as a gift. Though it pains me to slip out of such a grace as limitless interest, her burgeoning understanding that all things do not radiate from mother equals the dawning of her realization that she is free to stake her own claim, create her own path, become her own center. And that's what I wanted, isn't it?

The plates will shift back and forth. We'll spend time farther apart, but we'll crash into each other in another place. She is separate from me. That is a truth that I will have to get used to as she increasingly feels the need to prove it.

I miss our oneness already. But my pride in this new beautiful individual also leaves me open to another kind of pride in myself eventually. For 8 years I've felt overall OK that I was succeeding in raising a dependant, despite occasional dips into despair over my mistakes. But now Cate has thrown down the gauntlet - mothering an independent. Her faith in me that I can rise to it really leaves me with no other option but to rise.

Sweet teacher.