I was doing a quick spot check on my kids in the park—one in the little metal car, trying to climb on the roof, one going down the slide head first—when a friend asked me, “Do you think that you would give your life for your children?” The one going head first down the slide was going a little too fast, but no emergency action was needed. “Huh?” “Like, Miriam was saying yesterday that she would totally jump into fire for her kids. And everyone nodded and said sure. And I was thinking, what if the flames are so hot and so high and there’s your child’s terrified face at the window and you should dive right in, right?” I nod, my eyes darting around the park; I had lost sight of the baby—no, I hadn’t, there she was, still going down the slide. “And what if you don’t? What if you scream and scream and freeze in place?” My baby on the slide was going way too fast. I ran and stopped the impact, scooped her up in my arms, and held her to my chest. Fire, huh? I felt my pulse in my ears and I held her tighter. “No, Ima, slide down!” she exclaimed, and wiggled in my arms until I dropped her, to do it all again. “So would you?” She had caught up to me. “Would you just jump into the fire? Do you know that you would?”The flames are licking at the edges of the window. Her beautiful little face shadowed, reddened, she’s calling for me. “Yes!” I knew, and I said. “Yes, I would. I would. I would jump into a fire for them.” “Supermommy,” my friend said, and smiled. I smiled back, feeling somewhat superior to the non-jumping-into-the-firemommies. But just today, just before we left to go to the park, just before I discovered my jumping-into-the-fire-ness, I yelled at my biggest one.
She can be so trying. Everything has to go her way, even to the point of being ridiculous. “Sweetie, go. Go to the bathroom.” “No!” She answered immediately, automatically. “First, I have to…” I had been standing at the door, one hand on the stroller, for 15 minutes already while she did a string of first-I-have-tos. I felt my patience snap. “Have to what? Have to what? We always go to the bathroom before leaving the house. Please just go to the bathroom so that we can go, before it gets too dark!” “No!” Her will, not mine! “First I have to dance!” And the child started dancing. I counted to ten. Well, I got up to eight, with my brain saying over the counting, Why can’t she just do it! Why can’t she just go to the bathroom! Why does everything have to be so hard! “Go!” I glowered. “Go to the bathroom NOW!” I think flames shot from my eyes, because she went. And then we went. And then my friend asked me if I would die for them. Of course I would, in a heartbeat, in a second, but that’s not the point, is it? I knew that wasn’t the point at all. And when I finally finished bedtime that night and lay on the couch for a moment to relish that particular victory, I thought about my big girl doing a flailing little dance to avoid having my will imposed upon her and it was kind of funny, really. Why didn’t I see how funny it was while it was happening? First I have to dance, she had said. On the couch, in the quiet of the house, I cracked a smile. If I could turn back time, I would have turned the music on instead of counting to ten while drumming my fingers on the door. I would have taken her hands. I would have joined her. So maybe it’s less about dying for them and more about living with them. Maybe it just boils down to more dancing.