My children are obsessed with mandarin oranges. I buy them by the bagful, five pounds at a time, every week. Sometimes, two bags. The kind, questioning clerks at Trader Joes are always remarking at how much fruit my cart holds. “Do you make a lot of smoothies?”, “Wow, 36 bananas!”, “Somebody loves these little oranges as much as I do..!”, and other well-intentioned commentary. “I, I just have five kids,” I stammer weekly, “I want them to eat things that are healthy.”
She brings me one now, this four year old girl. She has the biggest, Disney princess eyes, and feelings that are so easily hurt. She smiles her sweetest smile, she has more charm in her so far short life, than I will ever accumulate in the entirety of mine. “I’m hungry, Mommy, will you peel my ohyange?” I set my book down, and say of course. She is waiting, trusting, watching me.
I cannot help but think that this time is too brief. This window that opens, will all too soon close. And I will no longer be needed to do little chores.
I am peeling her snack, careful and slow. She likes the peel to come off in one piece. She has always been particular. Her bananas have to be peeled only half way, with three equal strips of peel left hanging. Oatmeal cannot be made with just water, she needs half and half pooling on the top, in just the right amount, so that she can stir it in. Frozen asparagus will not do, she likes it to be cooked with lemon the same day we buy it at the farmer’s market.
She is four, and lovely, and knows her own mind. And instead of being irritated, I really like it. How beautiful is it to know your place, and to go for what you want for a change?
It would be easier if she was not so specific. Or if her sisters and brother were not either. But this way, I feel like I’m earning it. To be trusted with how people best like there food, for them to look to you to know what they think is good? I can’t think of many things I’d rather do. I mean, cooking 6 nights a week isn’t always my favorite thing, but being the one who is always there, who knows what to do to make sure they know that I care? Yeah, that’s pretty good.
So, I do it, carefully. I unwrap each orange, so many that on Saturdays my fingers are stained like Cheetos puffs, but worn. I hope that they remember, not about all of the fruit, but that I was trustworthy with what they placed in my hands. I hope that when the time comes, that they trust me with their secrets. That when darkness and rebellion seem cooler than their mom, that they come to me with the things that they hold in their hearts. That I will be patient at peeling back the layers, and still kind enough to remember what makes them feel happy, and whole, and safe. That I will still have the energy to bend my parenting to each of my children’s shape. That I will look past the stains that loving them leaves on me, and will do what is best for them every day.
“Here you go, sweetheart.” As I hand her the orange. She thanks me and offers to take the peel to the garbage. That’s okay, I tell her, Mommy will take care of it. And I mean it.