Sunday, May 13, 2012

Defining a Myth

I was hanging out with my kiddo yesterday, enjoying some down time since it was raining and her softball practice was cancelled.  We baked a cake, watched a little TV, nothing much. 

In the middle of it all, though, while the cake was cooling and I was hand washing the few dishes that didn't fit in the dishwasher, she asked me an eyebrow-raising question.

"Mommy, when I'm old enough to get married, what should I look for to know that he's my Prince Charming?"

I was elbow-deep in dishwater and contemplated her question for a few seconds before answering.  Prince Charming is kind of a myth, but she's my little girl and the myth is part of her reality right now.

"Well, I suppose it's a little different for everyone, but what I would want you to keep in mind is that it goes both ways and you need to give what you expect, too."  I rinsed off the last dish and went on.  "You deserve to be loved and respected, so you want someone who will always show love and respect, to you, your family and your kids if you have them, and the other people in your lives."

She scooted close to my side, looking up at me like I was sharing directions to some kind of hidden treasure.  I washed my hands, wiping off the remaining suds on a towel and turned to pick her up and hold her in my arms.  She rested her head on the side of my neck, quiet, waiting for me to continue.  I carried her to the living room and sat on our seen-way-better-days couch.  I rested my chin on her head as the cushions sank further down into the frame.

"You need to look for integrity," I continued.

"What's integrity?"

"Like being honest and keeping promises.  You want someone who values promises, not someone who says things because it'll make you feel better or because it's what you want to hear.  The promises are kept because they're promises and they mean something."

She pulled back and looked up at me.  "Are all promises equal?"

I shrugged a little.  "Others might not agree with me, but I think all promises are equal.  What I mean is that some promises might be bigger than others, but they're all important, and once someone makes a promise, it's important to keep those promises as much as possible.  Sometimes things will happen that might keep someone from keeping a promise, but that person still needs to make an effort.  That's part of integrity."

Her wise eyes connected with mine.  "What else, mommy?  That can't be it."

I paused again, carefully considering what I should tell her as she snuggled deeper into me.  It was the eve of her seventh birthday, but I had a feeling that even though she's just a little girl, this conversation was going to stick with her.

"You want someone who will look into your eyes.  People say that the eyes are the window the heart and soul, and if that's true, you want someone that you trust enough to see deep inside you and love whatever's seen in there.  Marry someone who believes you're important, who will really and truly put you first."

My throat tightened a little bit and I swallowed over the growing lump.

"Marry someone who has faith and believes in God, because when things get hard, and they will, sweetie, you'll need something bigger than the two of you to make it through.  Marry someone who prays with you, who likes holding your hand when you go to church, who will understand when you question your own faith and still be there at the end of the day when you don't know what to do next, someone who will be there for you to turn to in those moments when you turn away from God.  Marry someone who really gets you.  Someone who shares your dreams.  It's not enough for someone just to acknowledge that you have your own dreams.  You'll need someone who supports you in pursuit of those dreams."

"What about the garbage?"     

I was baffled.  "Garbage?  What do you mean?  Like things that aren't important?"

She shook her head.  "No.  Like shouldn't Prince Charming be nice and take out the garbage without being asked or reminded?"

I laughed out loud and gave her a big squeeze.  "That would be a bonus, Tink."

I rubbed her back for a minute before she pressed on.  "But what else, mommy?  What else should Prince Charming have?"

How was I supposed to answer?  "Well, he should be a strong man.  Not necessarily strong like being able to carry heavy things, though that is nice.  I mean strong enough to support you when you're angry or sad or hurting.  Someone who doesn't mind if you cry sometimes.  Someone you trust enough to let see you cry.  You should never be afraid to show how you're feeling or talk about why you're feeling sad."

Her fingers twirled the end of my braid.  "Mommy, I have a secret to tell you."

I could hear a hint of anxiety in her voice.  "What's up, baby?  You can tell me anything."

She sat up, eyes downcast.  "Last weekend when you thought I was sleeping after I went to bed, I heard you crying."

The lump in my throat got bigger, squeezing and making it hard to swallow.  I knew exactly what she was talking about.  "I'm sorry, sweetie.  Sometimes grown ups get a little sad and crying helps."  I prayed she wouldn't ask me what I'd been crying about.

"Mommy, I know I'm not Prince Charming, but you can always cry in front of me.  I'll never laugh at you, okay?"

My lips quivered and my vision blurred.  Who is this child? 

She bounced off the couch, our conversation apparently finished.  Before bolting from the room, she turned to me.

"So, Prince Charming should be nice, keep promises, be strong, love me, go to church with me and take out the garbage?"

I laughed.  "I guess that about covers it."

As she ran up the stairs, she called out to me.  "Cool.  But that doesn't sound like Prince Charming.  That just sounds like a regular guy."

Yes it does, kiddo.  Yes it does.