It was a Saturday afternoon in early May, and I was on my way home from a heavenly 90-minute massage. The state of relaxation I enter aprés-massage is so foreign and disorienting that I often struggle with the five-minute drive home. Nonetheless, I drove home as fast as I possibly could, certain that my arrival would avert some crisis that would have snowballed had I pulled up 45 seconds later. My family was sitting on the front lawn waiting to welcome me. On this particular occasion, although there was no actual "crisis," the scene was problematic in its own way. Pulling into the driveway, I noticed that my 5-1/2-year-old had set up some sort of makeshift table out of an old box. Ahh, a "stand" of some sort, I supposed, noting a construction paper sign and stack of papers weighted down by a rock.
"Mother's Day cards, one dollar!" Izzy bellowed. I shot a dismayed look at my husband, who shrugged apologetically. I glanced around our deserted block, a quiet cul-de-sac; there may as well have been a soundtrack of chirping crickets and tumbleweed blowing by. Hmmm. Perhaps not the best market for our product. I rushed inside and dug 27 cents in change out of my purse. Fortunately, the kindergarten curriculum had not yet covered money skills.
Enthusiastically, I selected a card (for myself) and forked over the change. Izzy looked temporarily pleased, and then went back to her job.
"Mother's Day cards, one dollar!" she boomed to no one in particular. It took approximately a minute and a half to shift from confident entrepreneur to irritated salesperson to despondent outcast. "Nobody wants to buy my cards," she whined plaintively. "I'll never sell any." I feebly attempted to describe the current abandoned state of our neighborhood, skipping over altogether my explanation of the common practice of purchasing one's OWN cards for one's mothers, assuring her it had nothing to do with her skills as an artist or stand-operator.
Inconsolable, she began to destroy her handiwork, ripping up her cards and knocking down her stand.
"Nobody likes my ideas!" she wept. OK, that's my trigger point. She may as well have told me that nobody came to her birthday party. Although mindful not to be a helicopter parent, I am unable to watch my child descend into imagined worthlessness without desperately trying to convince her of her excellence. I crooned and cajoled, but she was having none of it. I looked up in desperation and saw two skinny young teenage girls emerge from their house.
"Look, Izzy!" I exclaimed a little too brightly. "Let's go give those girls one of your cards!" At this point I thought it best to abandon Izzy's money-making efforts and just settle for feeling wanted. Of course the girls were delighted to receive their slightly ridiculous cards and were appropriately effusive towards Izzy, who smiled smugly. I, on the other hand, had just caught a glimpse of all the years ahead of rejection: low-profit lemonade stands, Daddy desperately peddling Girl Scout cookies at the office to make our minimum sell, failed admission into clubs of tiny mean girls, boys laughing at her requests to dance, juvenile delinquents breaking her heart...
On the 4th of July, her creative endeavors took on a different form. We were planning a holiday barbecue and had invited family and friends over, including several children Izzy's age. The evening before, she spent a good deal of time on the living room floor with my dad, handwriting invitations to a parade that would occur the next day. Each note read as follows: "Everyone. There will be a parade at 4:30." She rolled them up like scrolls, banded with her brand new hair rubber bands, and announced her intention to deposit them on the stoops of every house on our block just like newspapers. I didn't pay much attention at this stage. Assessing the likelihood of her follow-through, I reflected back on the dozens of personalized invitations to her "ball... tea party... talent show... concert..." that never actually came to fruition and foolishly figured we were safe.
The next morning, she loaded up her invites in a shopping bag and announced it was time to deliver them. My heart sank. Of course I complied, put the baby in the stroller and watched Izzy skipping gaily ahead of me, shopping bag swinging. I flashed back to my own 5-year-old self, delivering rocks painted with watercolors to my own poor neighbors. Oh God, she's me all over again, I thought, and not for the first time. These are truly cringe-worthy moments as parents, when we see all too clearly our most painful and vulnerable qualities reflected in our children.
After having delivered all of the scrolls, one of them by hand to some man I have never seen before, we had a lengthy discussion about what would happen if:
- It rained.
- The other children coming to our gathering didn't want to participate.
- All of our neighbors were at other people's houses for the holiday, leaving us without an audience.
- The parade, in general, did not go as we had planned.
Yes, I'm Type A.
When 4:15 rolled around, we excitedly gathered our parade equipment. Izzy's sweet uncles had graciously agreed to participate in the parade to stack the odds against failure. We were at a loss as to what to do about the parade music, it being essential that John Phillip Sousa's marches accompanied our festivities. God bless Uncle Brian. Not only had he brought along the juggling sticks from his youth, in a stroke of genius he pulled his car into the cul-de-sac, set his iPod on repeat, and blared "Stars and Stripes Forever" from the car stereo. The symphonic strains blasting unleashed a wave of giddiness in me, as I remembered all the years of our own dad-led 4th of July parades. (Apparently this need to take to the streets with red, white and blue streamers runs in the family.)
Led by the aforementioned grandpa/bandmaster waving his baton, we took off. Izzy and pal rode in her electric jeep, waving patriotic pinwheels. Grammy pushed the terrified and bawling baby in her decorated stroller, Uncle Brian juggled his impressive diablo sticks and Uncle Brandon waved the flag. Yes, we were a motley crew, but pleased with our efforts and having one hell of a time. Then I spotted them. One of our neighbors down the block was having a barbecue, and at least a dozen people stood out front to watch our homemade parade. My eyes pricked with tears, knowing what a success this would feel like to my brave and ambitious daughter. The kids and grownups clapped and cheered as we marched by, Izzy beaming.
As I thanked my brother later for his stellar efforts in making Izzy's dreams a reality, he shrewdly responded, "Well, we saved her from humiliation. There isn't much in life that is more important than that." I knew I had many years ahead of me of trying -- and likely failing -- to save my daughter from humiliation and heartbreak. But on this one day, the success and magic of our homemade parade was enough.