Observing my five year old daughter as she fussed quietly over her dolls, my heart was melting. I got the iPhone video-ready to capture on camera evidence of the kind of imaginative play that would let me know definitively that she is a genius. I came up behind her stealthily and hit ‘record’.
Sympathetic voice: “…no, Sweetie…her Mommy can’t help you because her Mommy is dead. Her head got cut off in a terrible accident and she got all her feet chopped off and then she fell into a volcano and drowned in hot lava and she is not alive…”
Later that day: similar scenario, same sympathetic voice “…sorry…her Mommy was killed by hornets and then they had to put her in the ocean and a shark came.”
Many times since: almost every doll play scenario my child engages in somehow involves the mother doll about to die or already dead; bitten by a snake, shot in the face, karate chopped to a pulp, burned alive, at the bottom of the pool, eaten by fire ants, stabbed with a shish kabob, shot into space and suffocated by Moon-cheese.
Should I be taking this personally? And, um, where did we learn this exactly? Was there A Very Special Episode of SuperWhy that I missed? Was it the ‘director’s cut’ of Dora Saves The Crystal Kingdom in which all the mothers are rounded up and eliminated in a series of escalating natural disasters and freak accidents to rival Final Destination XXVI?
I’m positive that there is some kind of psychologically sound reason for this that I am simply too fatigued to learn about. I also acknowledge that weird mother-gap in almost all the Disney movies that my children adore so much (I mean, Nemo’s mommy really bites it). And OK maybe, just maybe, after my Grandfather died I went slightly overboard in my quest to treat his death as a ‘teaching moment.’ I didn’t realize my earnestness would be repaid with a 24/7 carnival of horrors.
Oddly, it reminds me of those first few months of breast feeding, when I was fighting so hard to make it work. And then one day, through all the pain and the tears, it just finally took off, and we were all set, and I was so proud of myself; I felt like a warrior, a champion who had battled against the odds to triumph at something I really wanted and that didn’t come easily to me. And then…my beautiful tiny baby, wrapped in the loving embrace of her two beaming parents, snuggled up against my husband’s chest, and tried to suckle from HIS HAIRY MAN-NIPPLE. She couldn’t tell the difference between my life-giving mother teats, and the useless vestigial titties of her loving but non-lactating father?! And for that matter, she also seemed to give quite a bit of loving attention to the sheepskin blanket we had laying over the back of the couch, as if searching the treated pelt of a long dead sheep for a couple of dirty old mutton dugs.
Which is to say, I was feeling rather under appreciated.
And then suddenly I remembered that the only art project my mother ever saved from my youth was one in which I (also the age of five) drew the graveyard headstones of every person in my family. Each gravestone was engraved with the birth and death dates of each family member, with a thoughtfully placed R.I.P. at the top. The largest and most elaborate one was of course, reserved for my mother.
And then I double-remembered that excessive intake of espresso based drinks makes me go bananas sometimes, and that I was being ridiculous about this. It was so clearly a normal part of growing up, and dipping one’s toes into ideas about mortality.
Relieved, I resumed my celebration of her amazing ingenuity, and, bursting with a fresh wellspring of maternal pride, showered her with an unimaginable number of kisses. And made videos. And called people.
But just for good measure I made sure to call my mother to remind her how just much I love her too. Hi Mom. Um, sorry about the graveyard thing.