I have always been the nice mom in the neighborhood, comforting the upset kid waiting alone at school pickup, worrying about the preschooler cruising the grocery store aisle, until yesterday, when I told the golden haired little girl at the park to go away.
It was a warm beautiful day, and I was intent on making some memories. Planning a picnic lunch, I started packing remember to fill the backpack with balls, bubbles, sand toys and a Frisbee. My older daughter Olivia brought her scooter, and we went to the local park where I knew my younger daughter Zoe could navigate her pink power wheelchair through the grass and over the sidewalk paths. I planned on hanging out and playing with both girls, while helping Zoe walk, climb, slide and swing. All challenging stuff for a kid who cannot stand by herself, but what fun, playing in the park like everyone else.
We soon arrived and found a shady spot to spread out our blanket. Zoe parked her wheelchair and we sat enjoying lunch and playing a silly game. Olivia was soon off, riding her scooter in laps around the grassy area where Zoe and I sat playing with bubbles. After a while we packed up and moved to the other side of the park, to the swings, slides and climbing equipment.
Olivia led the way, dropping her scooter to the side of the swing set. Zoe and I arrived a few minutes later, parking her power chair alongside O’s scooter. Taking Zoe’s arms, I walked her up to the empty swing alongside her sister. With my hands over hers, she sat swinging, I gently pushed her a few feet into the air while she laughed and called out to Olivia. Within a few minutes, a golden haired little girl arrived. She was dressed in a neon pink and green sundress, was barefoot and hopping up and down. She looked to be about five or six. Zoe immediately sized her up as a potential playmate and said hello. The golden haired little girl ignored Zoe, looking at me instead, pointing to Zoe’s chair and asking “Why does she have that?”
“It helps her move around fast,” I said.
Zoe and I moved to the climbing gym. Taking the steps slowly as we climbed, one hand over hers, my other hand on her hip, my body blocking hers from behind for extra balance. One slow step after another and Zoe was finally at the top of the smaller tower. Excitedly, Zoe called out to her sister-trying to entice her into a game of hide and go seek. The golden haired little girl appeared again, quietly at my side. It was her loud voice that woke me from my thoughts. “Why do you have to help her walk?” “Why do you have to hold her hands?” She fired off her questions without a breath in between. “Oh, it helps her balance and go faster,” I answered.
For the next half hour Zoe and I went down slides, climbed to the top again, hung out in the small tower, played giggle “tag” with Olivia – and for the next half hour I tried to distract the golden haired little girl every time she appeared again, questioning. “But, why do you slide with her?” Followed up with “I am five and I can do it by myself. She is older than me. Why can’t she?!” Smiling, I gave this little girl all of my best politically correct, curiosity satisfying, kid answers about why my daughter cannot walk, cannot stand or run all by herself. I was determined not to talk about disease, weak muscles or a body not born to do these things, because Zoe was right there, listening, playing and smiling. I smiled my best fake, patient, Mommy smile . On this one, sunny, warm afternoon I wanted us all to be normal and well.
Golden hair little girls’ mom was not around, I kept looking. Finally I saw a babysitter off in the distance, texting, glancing up to find the girl and then look down to her phone again. I snickered to myself, of course, I thought. That golden haired girl’s mom probably needs a rest from this kid’s incessant nagging curiosity. Sizing up the babysitter, I could see she was too young and inexperienced to help me out, I was definitely on my own. Great, I thought. Golden hair little girl’s stalking session had probably given the babysitter a break, too!
Zoe and I were climbing the steps to the small tower, yet again, when the girl was beside me. Zoe and I were awkwardly lunging forward, one unbalanced step at a time, toward the top. Golden haired girl was getting more curious, “It sure takes her a long time to get up there.” And because golden haired little girl still had not even said hello to Zoe, I quickly glanced over my shoulder to make sure I was out of earshot and then growled at this angel faced, golden hair little girl… “Go. Play.”
“Huh?” she exclaimed, surprised, her eyes widened.
“Go. Play. Somewhere. Else.” In my best low and stern, mean mother voice I over emphasized each word. Like a snake about to strike, I slowly hissed for extra effect. And, finally..poof! …she was gone.
At dinner, we were talking about our time at the park. “That little girl…” Zoe began slowly… “I saw her following you,” interrupted Olivia.
“She was annoying me,” Zoe finished saying, laughing. I looked at Zoe then, the exaggerated expression on her face, as she rolled her eyes in frustration.
I remembered then, the way golden haired girl dashed across the park, reappearing repeatedly, with such fluid motion, her muscles strong, her legs pumping fast as she ran like lightening. I saw her climbing, again to the highest tower where Zoe wanted to go, yet I could not take her because the only way to reach the high tower was by using the monkey bars. I pictured her golden hair, long and curly down her back, bouncing as she took the rungs of those monkey bars effortlessly, it took just seconds for the golden haired girl to make it to the top of the highest tower, where she stood, princess like, looking down at the rest of us.
With an ache in my mothers heart I said, “Me too, Zoe. She was annoying me, too.”