Spirit & Life
When I was young and unmarried, I dreamt of having a daughter some day.
My fantasy was a vague jumble of jump rope, lace-collared dresses, hair ribbons and tea parties. I envisioned a little girl who wore braided pigtails and patent leather Mary Janes. Years later, when the doctor announced I had given birth to a girl, I felt unsure about many things, but fairly confident that at least I was entering familiar territory. After all, I was a little girl once. I knew what little girls were all about.
I am not sure exactly when reality checked my fantasy. Perhaps it was 18 months later, when Kateri, my tow-headed toddler, discovered grasshoppers. I was working in the garden when she returned from exploring the front lawn and presented me with fists full of the hapless creatures, their bodies crumpled and oozing from the clutches of her fat little fingers.
“Ook, Mama!’ Ook!’ Ook!” she exclaimed. I shrieked, shook the grasshopper parts from her hands and rushed her into the house for a good scrubbing at the bathroom sink. Kateri was undaunted. All that summer she continued to collect grasshoppers — as well as ants, beetles, moths and spiders.
I didn't give up the idea, however, that my daughter would become the kind of little girl I once was. For her birthday, I searched toy stores and catalogs until I found the perfect doll, dressed in delicate floral pajamas. At first, Kateri humored me. She fed the doll a bottle and changed its diaper. It wasn't long, though, before she put the baby down for an extended nap. She put one of its dresses on a giant rubber grasshopper, her favorite birthday present, and soon “Hoppy” was accompanying us on every outing to the grocery store while the doll lay forgotten in her bassinet.
It's not that Kateri and I have nothing in common. We do share a passion for chocolate cake and I am embarrassed to admit how often I hear my own voice in hers as she scolds her younger siblings. Countless times in the eight years since her birth, though, I have gazed at her with wonder. I am amazed to have a daughter who sports a backward baseball cap and roots for the St. Louis Rams with fierce emotion.
The ways in which our children surprise us, I now realize, can be a wonderful gift. Our kids invite us to explore worlds we would never venture into on our own. They challenge assumptions we didn't even know we were making. Through our children, God teaches us to truly love people whose basic makeup is vastly different from our own. And Catholic parents don't have to look far to see why Pope John Paul II has so insistently applied Matthew 5:13-14 to the young people of the Church: “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”
These days, Kateri has no time for tea parties, and fancy buckle shoes would only cramp her style. Early in the morning, she dons a pair of rubber boots and heads outdoors to explore the marshy edges of our property. She wades through thick mud and murky puddles, carrying a metal pail that she fills with frogs, newts, salamanders and beetles. Sometimes she captures a garter snake and races home to show me her prize.
“Look!” she cries in breathless excitement as I back away from the wriggling reptile in her hands.
Her freckled nose is smudged with mud. Uncombed hair wildly frames her exuberant face. This little girl is no cookie-cutter, miniature version of myself. She never will be. She is unabashedly, irrepressibly, undeniably herself. In other words, she is exactly what a little girl should be.
Danielle Bean writes from Center Harbor, New Hampshire.
- July 6-12, 2003