Islands in the Stream

I thought I had her pegged.

Well, of course. You know all of your children by heart. How can you not? You birthed them, stayed up all night with them, want them to fall asleep so badly that you can’t take it, and then when they finally go to sleep you watch home videos of them and love them so much you can’t take it. You know them inside and out – their good middos and the middos they need to work on and the way they are sometimes disturbingly and exactly like your mother-in-law.

The one I thought I had pegged is standing in the river, icy, clean water flowing around the wet rocks upon which she is perched precariously, and has caught another fish. I know this because she yells out, “Ima! Abba! Come quickly! I caught another fish!”

She is holding the fishing rod aloft with two hands. The only things brighter than the rainbow trout at the end of the hook are her eyes.

She has been fishing pretty much nonstop since our camping trip started three days ago, and she has been keeping score. “Five fish,” she says as we sit around the fire later that night. She is wrapped in my husband’s big sweatshirt and there is a smudge of dirt on her chin. “And one was  a keeper!”

She did not know what a “keeper” was before this trip. Now she knows it means that the four smaller fish she had hooked she had to let go, sending them back into the river and watching them swim away, and the large one she had struggled to bring ashore early that morning, when the sun was only beginning to warm the chilly mountain air, we were able to roast over the fire.

Before this trip, I knew she liked American Girl dolls. I knew she liked clothing slightly too sophisticated for her age, and although she liked reading, she was in her element when surrounded by friends. She is the one who comes home from a party wanting to go over every single detail of who said what, the color theme’s pros and cons, the music, how she could have danced all night, how she was too excited to go to sleep.

My big-hearted, extroverted, party-loving, fashion-forward daughter, slightly too smart, noticing slightly too much, her eyes wide open to see what the world offers next. She is a city girl, I thought. She would hate the dirt, hate the calm of the campsite. She would be bored here.

I thought I had her pegged.

And now I realize – as the sky grows dark and we only see each other by the light of the fire and the stars as bright as pinpricks of daylight – that more than that, I had her pigeonholed.

We do it because it is easier, I think, to put our children into boxes, because then there are no surprises. But here she is, my city girl, the one who hates the taste of fish, and she is eating from the foil-wrapped trout that my husband roasted in olive oil and spices, and she is telling us how she knew a fish was going for her bait because she had her eye on the shadow behind the rock, and then she felt a tug and waited a second before setting the hook.

“Can we fish again tomorrow before we go home?” she asks my husband. “Just for a few minutes, before we pack up?”

She does, and she catches a keeper, and my husband snaps a picture of her, her hair tangled from sleep, her pajama top still on, her feet in the icy water, her smile from ear to ear.

Why had I pigeonholed her, if only in my mind? The world will do that enough.

“I’ll print out this picture and you can show it to your friends,” my husband tells her.

“No way!” she says, shaking her head. “You can’t show it to my friends! They would all laugh at me.”



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