My nine-year-old daughter, Vivien, is a little princess, who under normal circumstances can’t even pour herself a glass of milk. Even as a baby, she had such a regal air that her father and I used to joke that she must have discovered us under the heading “slaves” in some catalog for pre-womb babies searching for parents.
Now that I’m a single parent, I’m her only attendant-in-waiting during her time with me. So when I came home shivering with fever at lunchtime one-day last week, my first thought was, “How will Her Royal Littleness react?” It would be too much to expect her to actually leave me in peace to rest, much less to care for me anyway. But would she at least be willing to forage for herself at mealtime?
At 3:30 pm, I dragged myself out of bed and drove to school to pick her up. In the car on the way home, I said, “Sweetheart, Mommy’s really sick, and I’ve got to go to bed as soon as we got home. I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything for you tonight. I can’t make dinner or run your bath, or anything. I’ve just got to rest. Do you think you could manage to fix your own meal tonight?”
“Mom that’s okay” she replied unconcernedly, but this didn’t reassure me. The real test would come when she actually wanted something.
When we arrived home, I crawled back upstairs to bed, where I lay, miraculously undisturbed, for the next six hours. Well, almost undisturbed. Every now and then, I would wake from feverish sleep to find a little angel bending over me with some goodwill offering. A wet cool washcloth to wipe my hot brow. A brass bell to ring if I wanted anything. A picture she had drawn to cheer me up of a kitten basking in the sun. A “feel-good,” pink bow-tied teddy bear that someone had brought her once when she was sick, and in whose medicinal properties she seemed to place great faith.
During one of her visitation, I announced that I needed to go downstairs to the bathroom. Vivien solicitously helped me on with my sweater “in order to keep you warm,” and she insisted on, leaning on her all four feet of her in order to negotiate the stairs. When I wandered into the kitchen and out of habit began to put dishes away, my little princess sternly interrupted me. “Mommy, you’re doing too much stuff. Go back to bed.” I meekly obeyed. Throughout the evening. Vivien issued periodic reports on her progress with the evening routine. “I just made myself a salad for dinner.” Or, “I’m running my bath now.”
The pièce de resistance came at bedtime. She announced, in her best mommy-imitation voice, “I’m just going downstairs to see whether anything else needs to be done. Then I’m going to brush my teeth, turn out the lights and go to bed.” I smiled to myself under the blankets.
Then Vivien produced a little book she had made for me by cutting out pieces of colored paper and stapling them together. The rust page read, ‘I LOVE YOU, MOMMY.’ The second page read, ‘YOU are so pretty, MOMMY!’ The third page read, ‘Thank you for all the things you did for me MOMMY.’ The fourth page read, ‘You don’t know how cool you are MOMMY.’ The fifth page read, ‘You are the BEST MOMMY.’ The sixth page exhorted, ‘Good job MOMMY.’ The seventh page concluded, ‘GO, MOMMY.’
I started to cry as I read this testimony of love from my daughter. Just the day before, I had been feeling overwhelmed and unappreciated as a parent. Today, not only had Vivien taken care of herself and me beautifully, but she had also reassured me that I was very much loved and valued indeed. Her actions and words that day made all the things I do for her worthwhile and gave me more strength than my medicine could have. As she disappeared downstairs to close up the house for the night, I felt a wave of gratitude for the illness that had given. Little princess had the opportunity to demonstrate to me how much she appreciated me. What a sweet and generous little angel she truly is.
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