“What were you like before you were my mama?”
I cradle Daisy to my chest, and we rock back and forth to the gentle rhythm of my breathing.
“I was different.”
I smooth her hair, trace my fingers along the hollow, soft spot just below the crown of her head.
“Were you scary?”
“I might have been,” I say. “I might have been lots of things.”
“I think we’ll never know for sure, little dove.”
“But why not?”
I’m quiet for a moment. I say, “Because we all get to make our own stories, and this is the one I’m making.”
Daisy’s room smells of peppermint and lavender, a combination of my tea and her soap, and something else. Something old, damp, and dusty, but familiar, like home.
“Mama, can you sing to me?”
I hum a soft lullaby, and as Daisy drifts off in my arms, I think of the decision we made, all of us. The decision to be careful with our words, to let our children tell their own stories. We felt like it was a mercy, in a cruel world, to let them make their own history and their own future.
One day, far away from now, maybe I will tell her: There’s power in words. That’s your first lesson. And there’s power in their absence. That’s your second.
Or maybe I won’t. Right now, she is free and new and utterly, completely herself. How long can this last? Time will tell.
I don’t think anyone ever really, truly knows whether the thing they’ve chosen is the right thing. When all of this started, I didn’t have Daisy. At least, not completely. She was a blip in the universe, just a tiny thing knitting herself into my body. I only had myself and a collection of painful memories, existing within a world that didn’t seem to want me. The thought of starting over, of starting anything, and of creating a better place, washed over me like a warm summer breeze, and I was certain, in that moment, that I’d made the best decision for myself.
But for Daisy?
She’s sleeping now, curled around her favorite crocheted bunny. I hope she has good dreams, always. I hope she grows up carefree and happy. I hope she is strong.
But I worry.
What is strength without adversity? Courage without knowledge? Wisdom without history?
There are nineteen families here, all of us raising children, all parents carrying burdens we never want them to see. We all have our reasons. They are good reasons, I think, but they belong to us, not to our children.
I asked Daisy a few days ago to tell me about her bunny.
“What does Bunny do when you’re busy at school?”
“Bunny stays home,” she said.
“Yes, Bunny doesn’t go to school with you. But what does Bunny like to do when he’s not with you?”
“He sleeps in my bed and hops around my room,” she said.
“Sometimes, he likes to look out the window.”
“That’s fun!” And then I asked, “Is there anywhere he wants to go when he looks out the window?”
“No,” she told me. “He’s happy here.”
Daisy’s world is so small. She’s got me and our cottage, Bunny and her friends at school, the green grass and the blue sky. But there’s so much she’s missing.
“Doesn’t Bunny ever want to go places? Maybe to the beach?”
“What’s the beach, Mama?”
I didn’t tell her, not really. I only said it’s far away and warm.
We’re supposed to let our children make their own worlds, to use our words and our knowledge sparingly, to give them space to create. I don’t know if anyone else questions the goal, or the method we’re using to get there, but I do.
Because they need us, don’t they? They need our stories, they need our wisdom and our experience. Don’t they?
I hear Daisy on the steps.
“Mama,” she calls.
“I had a dream.”
“Tell me about your dream,” I say.
“It was a bad dream,” she tells me.
“Come and sit with me,” I say. And then, before I can stop myself, I add: “I’ll tell you a story.”
Thank you for reading! This is the sixth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2022 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Folklore
Here are the first five, if you’d like to read them:
I hope you join me in the challenge! I think it’s going to be a very good year for stories. But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here.
The next story will be posted at the end of July.