Monday, January 20, 2014

Happy Birthday, Badger Princess

by H. Linn Murphy

 As I drop the Badger Princess off at school from Seminary today I tell Her to have a wonderful day. My daughter throws me one of 'those' looks--the ones like little red wagons full of dirty diapers. I can't figure out what I did to enrage Her already, but it must have happened sometime around first grade. I can't figure out if She has something clinical (a possibility) or simply feels that I have burned my Mensa card and shall ever afterwards be relegated to the short bus.

It wasn't always like this. She was born a gorgeous angel with golden curls and a radiant smile. I remember that smile from long ago. When I garnered one, it felt as if Heaven had smiled down at me and I'd done something right. She gave magnificent hugs which warmed a person clear down to their toes. She cried for an hour on the way home when we dropped Her big sister off at the airport to go off to college and again when N. went on her mission. She loved to help in the kitchen, and I let Her.

Somewhere along in there She became the fearless bug-stomper, the clonker-of-brothers (with their own trucks no less), and the student every teacher longed for. The first time my husband and I went to a parent teacher conference, the teacher told us She was their star pupil. The Hubs and I looked at each other and wondered how it was possible for that teacher to have two little girls with exactly the same name in class.

She continues to amaze us with Her tenacity for some things: school, drawing, violin, Her best friend (another badger princess), and a certain boy. To these things She grips with the strength of my high school cafeteria gravy (better than super glue). Her sister can, at times, still get Her to laugh and be sweet, although the same sister still claims that dealing with Her is like poking an angry badger (thus the name). In fact, we draw straws when we have to wake the Badger. Loser has the short straw. If we're not careful, limbs and life are forfeit. Luckily I know first aid.

I bring Her an early birthday present in its shiny bag. She pulls the dress pants out and sends me that same look She has perfected through long years of practice when talking to me. "Are we doing any celebrating other than at B___'s house?" is all She asks. I add the "Thank you, Mom! I love you so much! These are exactly the right size and just what I needed!" speech in my head. I pretend She hugs me with one of those long-ago hugs. It's all I get these days. It's a good thing I have a rich imagination.

I know She's not like this across the board. Her teachers still continue to give Her glowing commendations (except for the stupid ones who have managed to, like me, tick Her off one too many times). She is beloved by her friends. They never call me asking why She keeps pushing the verbal dynamite plunger, blowing up their relationships. They keep coming around, asking Her out with the regularity of mailmen. 

So it must be me. Clearly I've crossed a line somewhere. Her attitude deficiencies don't come without some effort on my part to gently guide Her back into some semblance of a relationship. I don't want Her to grow up thinking She can treat those who love Her like Javert treats the prisoners from Les Miserables. I don't want the heartbreak of a whole string of broken marriages tarnishing Her soul. "At some point," I tell Her, "every husband is going to ask you to do something you find occasionally disgusting or excruciating or miserable (like bearing him children and cleaning up after them). How are you going to treat him?"
She merely gives me her stock dry smile and says, "Well he'll love me and I'll love him."

Yeah, just jab that thing in a little further and give it a good twist or two.

Is it a matter of chores? Because if that's the case, I might just have to be horrendously sick. When I was growing up, I lived on what amounts to a small farm. We hoed fields of potatoes. We had an enormous garden to water, weed, and debug. We had 45 or so rabbits to feed and water. We had a flock of chickens to feed, water, gather eggs from, and clean up after. There were goats to milk, feed, water and doctor. We had a dog to feed and water and clean up after and various other animal pets. Every summer we built something (barn, garage, basement, sidewalks, root cellar etc). Plus we had fields of bindweed to pull first whenever we wanted to go anywhere. I finally told my dad we should forget trying to grow grass and stick with the bindweed since it has pretty flowers and is great on bruises. Of course I lost that debate as well. Pluck pluck pluck. "And make sure you get the four foot long taproot or it'll grow back."

As kids, we didn't talk back on pain of a beating from Dad. We didn't complain to their faces. I turned the air in the barn blue lots of times, but the only beings who heard me stood there placidly chewing their cuds through it. My mom never felt the cutting edge of my tongue.

My children take forced turns filling the dishwasher. And She grudgingly sets the table for a week. I'd say She has to clean her room, but I haven't seen the floor in that room since we tried to find the stuffed animal sheep for the Christmas nativity a couple of years ago. I stopped hounding Her about it for fear that my head would explode from the onslaught of shrieking. So the chores are extremely minimal. To hear Her, you'd think our chores had been switched. She sets up a howl if I even open my mouth to ask Her to do any work at all. She even anticipates my need and snarls at me if I look purposefully in Her direction.

If I open my mouth to protest such treatment, stand back. There'll be some kind of laser strike coming out of those gorgeous blue eyes, aimed in my direction. At such times it's extremely unhealthy to be within the same county. I'm at a loss as to what to do about this without an elephant tranquilizer or phaser set on stun. I'd love to get back to the angel I once knew--the one who loved me and cuddled up instead of squirming away when I touch Her. Sometimes I simply take Her in my arms and force Her to stand there and drink in my love. Last time She stood there like a garden scarecrow until I manually flopped Her arms around my waist. But after a while She finally tightened the hold. She didn't even moan when I told Her I love Her.

There are more birthday gifts and a cake and games coming, but not because She's been a stellar communicator. They come because we love our Badger Princess and for what it's worth, are glad She joined our family those seventeen long years ago. I just hope we both survive the next seventeen outside of a mental facility.

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