She is washing her hands in the kitchen sink after clearing her dishes and filling her bowl with water. The scent of mint dish soap feels extra summery, extra clean after another hot day. Her vacation burn/tan has peeled, giving way to new skin across the bridge of her narrow nose and the high apples of her cheeks. She smiles and looks up.
“I just love watching you do things like pick dead leaves off of the plant.” What a funny thing to say. She makes it sound like poetry. Just ten minutes prior, I had to pluck off sad, withered leaves that utterly broke, became mushy when I put and left them out on the veranda. She was curious about what flowers they would have grown and how beautiful they would have become. Now, she recounts that she loved watching me deal with the dead houseplant.
“And I love watching you when I tell you there’s a big bug on you. To see what you will do.”
Can you believe that? Like anyone who pushes buttons, she wants the reaction, loves the effect.
But isn’t this love, I think? To want to simply be with the one we love. To watch them, whether they’re swatting a fly or pouring maple syrup. Even through day-to-day annoyances, we are locked in at the eyes, keyed in at the heart.
Life can be exhausting. I’m thinking specifically of the kind of exhaustion with two big kids and one infant. Diapers. Dishes. Today both kids stayed home from school. We’ve had fevers and potty-training. Science and art activities. Everyone is phenomenal at pushing each other’s buttons, especially the kids to each other. I chose to step into their shared shower just to play ref, therapist, and bruiser. We work at de-escalating a lot. Getting back to forgiveness and the tenderness of kids who know how to be in love. They are infatuated with baby now. If only I would let them sit perched on the edge of wherever their baby sis is laying, look with her at whatever has caught her infant-eyes.
Family is getting back to remembering that this is a person you love. Deeply. Wholeheartedly, without malice. This is true for a good marriage, or maintaining any good friendship. What did you first love? What continues to draw you to this person?
And here she said it. Even through the summer heat, the prickles of her wanting more independence and sometimes acting annoyed, she just wants to watch me. To throw whatever at me (a bug, a hug, another invitation to read a favorite book, a whiny whine) and see how I respond. Because she loves me.
We leave the sink and she volleys, “Mom! There’s a giant roach.” Just to see me squirm. To see me fight back with a gleam. We hold onto each other’s eyes. We see each other. The dishes aren’t so overwhelming and the next button I allow to be pushed may not seem as big. I’m on a sort of display, but she knows how to watch, intently, with her heart. She knows how to wear it on her sleeve.
We take each other’s hand and walk upstairs.