Last weekend I watched the movie Miss Potter with my beautiful daughter Ana, a treat for us that would have been more delightful if my toddler son had not fought with my preschool daughter and gabbed during the whole of it.
I need these moments with my oldest girl. She once came to me in the hectic morning hour before school and tried to tell me something that was important to her. I broke some cardinal rules; I interrupted her to tell her what she wanted to say, then when I got that wrong, I told her to just hurry up and tell me what she needed. She went away sad, and I was left in the misery of my momentary bad parenting. I coaxed her back and sat her on my lap, and then she broke my heart with, "Sometimes I feel like you don't have time for me." I'd like to say I never let that happen again, but she came to me again on a later school morning while I was scolding her little brother; I told her it was not the time to try to communicate with Mama.
Please don't judge too harshly. I feel pulled between a lot of people and a lot of tasks. Everybody wants a piece of me. It leaves me wondering, though, Will my Ana confide in me at all once I need her to share the concerns and secrets of a teenager? Or will I, God help me, have trained her not to seek me out because of my daily stress and time constraints? I am trying to rectify my mistakes by spending more time with my sweet girl, speaking with her when there are no distractions.
Ana is a quiet, even-keeled child. She does not have the temperament of her older brother. I spend a great deal of time in discourse with Berto, ironing out all manner of perceived ills or just catching up with conversation that he begins with complete confidence that you will want to join in (and you do - he is quite the conversationalist). Then there is the fact that Ana's little sister and brother are greedy with my time and love. If Ana sits by me, they come and scramble up onto my lap. They fight over me, jealous for my attention (a side effect of attachment parenting). I break up my lap - one leg per each child - but where does this leave my gangly eight-year-old when her younger siblings have each staked their claim? Trying to hang on at the side, to Mama's arm or hand, anything.
My toddler son routinely exclaims, "My mama! My mama!"
To which I respond with the line I have recited time and again, "Mama is Berto's mama and Ana's mama and Ella's mama and Danny's mama."
I often hear Ana lament, "Please can I just sit with Mama by myself?"
She got to do that as we enjoyed the movie based on Beatrix Potter's life, and I staunchly defended her right to that time. Recently, I have carved out time for her to sit with me in the evening, too, as I read to her from Potter's children's books, borrowed from the library.
I thought none of my kids who would enjoy those tales. I tried to get them as birthday books for Ana when she was younger, but my husband glanced over them and basically said, "Meh." So how pleased I was when Ana approached me at the library with, "I know these are kind of babyish, but do you think I could get them?"
"Of course!" I replied. "And they're not babyish. I read them when I was your age."
Truly, my Ana and I are very similar. We are loving, open-hearted people, goofy to the nth degree, fascinated by history, animal lovers, and true fans of Beatrix Potter's stories. What joy to sit and read them with her before bed and chuckle at Potter's humor in The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes and to see those wonderful drawings again in Miss Tiggy-Winkle!
As a child I had several of Potter's "bunny books". My parents bought me a set of four, and they were among some of my most prized possessions. My mother used to read them to me each afternoon as I sat on her lap while my brother and sisters were at school, and I cherished that time with her. Once I could read to myself, I did so gladly, but the time spent in my mother's arms and on her lap with favorite stories is what I most remember.
But I was the baby of the family. Ana is not; it is harder for us to find that time.
Today I encouraged Ana to get more of Beatrix Potter's tales from the library. I want to make these memories with her, because I do have time, I will make time, for my eldest girl. Right now, she gets me all to herself after Ella and Daniel are put to bed. Then I get to reflect that Ana and I are like each other in many ways, but dare I flatter us by saying we are like Beatrix? She was an animal and nature lover. Miss Potter is also still an excellent role model for young girls everywhere; she was smart, independent, highly educated, trail-blazing in her conservation efforts. In revisiting her work I am reminded why I loved her so as a child, why I can admire her all the more, knowing her personal story, as a woman. I hope Potter's life will help teach my Ana to be bold, to be genuine, to invest in her own natural talents even if she must go against the current. For now, however, I'll just settle for Beatrix Potter teaching me how to make time for my precious and talented daughter in sharing something that brings us both pleasure.