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 Texas : Features : Columns : "The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything"

Juicy TomaToes

by Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Hereís a news flash Ė I am crazy about my daughters. I am thinking about them because they are out of town today. And it occurs to me that the word "love" is entirely insufficient. One word is not enough for it.

When they were little children it was one kind of love. It was the kind of love that made me not mind smelling like spit up milk for the first nine months of their lives. The kind of love that made me hardly bat an eye when I had to get up from the dinner table to change a diaper. The kind of love that gave me the patience to survive potty training and learning to use a cup. The kind of love that gives a person the strength to hold still for a few seconds while your tiny baby daughter tries to fit your entire nose into her little slobbery mouth. Over and over and over. In short, it was the kind of love required by Nature to give you the wherewithal to nurture your child through infancy safe and sound and fed and mostly clean.

As my daughters grew and changed our love grew and changed. There were the years from nine to twelve when they adored me and told me everything and still wanted bedtime stories. Those were the years when sitting in the front seat with me was something worth arguing about.

Later, there were the hormonally tumultuous years. Everything I said to them was either annoying or stupid. They still wanted to sit in the front seat but it was only because (a) there was a fold down mirror on the sun visor and (b) they hoped I might suddenly lose consciousness so that they would be required to steer the car. My girls never actually said "I hate you!" to me. To my face. But they were not above seething and glaring, flouncing out of a room or occasionally slamming a door. Through those years I loved them with a tenderness so intense that it often made my eyes well with tears. I could see the little girls they had been and I began to see glimpses of the young women they would become. I remembered feeling the way they felt about things. I didnít mind when they glared balefully at me because I knew that behind that contempt they still cared what I thought and loved me and knew that I loved them. Early into that phase they would still let me fix their hair for special occasions and would be pleased with the results. Later on I couldnít even do that right. But throughout those years there was always something that we could do together no matter what. That thing was painting our toe nails.

Apes squat together in social groups and pick nits and lice out of each otherís hair. Itís a very good thing, whether you are an ape or not, if you have lice or nits to have someone get them out. But that is not the entire point. The point must be, at least in part, the tenderness, the touching, the stroking, the expression of concern for another being.

For my girls and me, and for my girls and their friends too, our "grooming behavior" completely bypasses squatting in the grass and picking through each otherís coif. Instead we do our toenails. If we are introspective and melancholy we choose pearly pastels and frosts. If it is winter we choose warm bronzes or deep smoldering wines. If someone has just been dumped or dumped some wretched feller we choose flaming tangerines or hot pinks. "Your loss, bub" colors. If it is a hot summer evening and we are feeling lazy and full and pleased with the world and everything in it we choose bright red. We sit in the backyard together on folding chairs, tall glasses of tea in the grass beside us which we can easily reach to rub the cool wet glass against our foreheads and our lips and sit either with a foot in someoneís lap or someoneís foot in ours. We paint and talk and laugh and wonder and worry and reassure. And then we stretch out our legs, admire our feet and say, "Oh, thatís a nice summery red!" And on those evenings I feel so filled with such powerful love for those girls that I think I am not big enough or strong enough to bear it all.

© Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
"The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything" April 11, 2009 Column
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