Today, I Let Her Win

"After I finish my coffee, it's Mommy and Ella time," I announced at the breakfast table. She had been in a lifeless and limp mood all morning. Practically melting into her bowl of yogurt. We blamed low blood sugar (she had skipped dinner the night before) and toddler-ness, but I had a feeling it also had something to do with her baby brother being attached to me since we woke up, getting cooed over and cuddled, and nursed (the thing she hates sharing the most). More than food, she needed Mommy, I guessed. When my announcement got the first smile of the morning, I knew I was right.

"So, what shall we do after breakfast?" Please, don't say paint. Please, don't say garden. Say "read a book," I prayed to myself. "I want to take a walk. With you," she answered. "In the backyard?" I said, fingers crossed. "No. Outside."

Oh. Outside. I never go outside. I am absolutely allergic to leaving the house. It is dusty. There are people. I'd have to look decent, wear a bra, brush my hair. Since leaving my job to become a stay-at-home mom, I'd further embraced my introversion and assigned the "people tasks" to the extroverts in the family: our helper, my husband, and E. They happily oblige: chatting with the neighbors, introducing themselves to strangers. This division of labor, it works. They handle the messy relationship thing. I take care of the indoor games: the art sessions, the block castle building, the storytelling. Yes, we will play, but we'll learn, too. Indoors, in my controlled environment. And I won't even need to find pants that still button up all the way.  

"Wouldn't you rather play upstairs?" I almost said. Like I always do. But, today, I pause, and didn't.
Outside, it was sunny. We greeted the manong who sometimes prunes our bougainvillea and the village caretaker who was sweeping up dried leaves. Aside from the workers, the streets are empty. Thank God for small mercies. I stop practicing my excuses for the extra pounds still hanging on and the small talk starters I keep in my pocket. Truthfully, I prefer conversations with my daughter these days.

I pointed out some sounds we could hear if we were quiet. "Let's be loud," she said with a smile. She noticed the sounds of the cars passing outside the gate and a strange chittering sound, possibly from a bird, above our heads. She asked me why there are cats in the guardhouse. I gave an answer that didn't satisfy. "Let's go back now," I said. "Let's go see the cats," she insisted. I pointed out the shapes of our shadows; she made a game of hiding her shadow in mine. I spotted a centipede; she spotted another. She pretended to count its legs; I pretended she gave the correct answer. 

I saw the makahiya plant she likes and asked if she'd like to touch it. "No, my feet will get sandy," she said, pointing out the dirty dumping ground. We agree on one thing, at least, I thought. I showed her a red thistle-like plant. She asked to touch some moss. "Soft," she told me. "Soft," I agreed. Two things then.

A car came up the driveway. It was time to go home. I made up a reason why. I whisked her upstairs for the coloring, the block building, the storytelling. It was fun; we learned about mazes and inside and out. I said, let's toss the balls inside the square. She tossed hers too far and too hard, on purpose. 

I wish she were the stay indoors kind of girl, the kind who draws all morning and makes pillow forts for her stuffed animals. The kind who likes to listen on walks, who doesn't go looking for crowds. I wish she followed instructions and asked questions I knew the answers to. I wish she were more like me.

But then, if she were like me, when would I ever see weeds and call them flowers, touch the moss, or count the legs on two centipedes combined? Without her, when would I ever see the sunshine?

I let her win today. What did she win? Her Mommy's time; to her, precious and priceless. And, as a bonus, the memory of a time when Mommy said yes instead of "but why not do this instead."

I say that I let her win. But, in her winning, what exactly did I lose? Half an hour on the Internet? A page of a book I could have read, but probably wouldn't? A few songs skipped on a playlist? A few words I could have written, but that may have stayed hidden anyway in the end? (And, look, I found these words instead.)

What did I gain? A story about kittens, the trust of my daughter, a shadow game without rules. Invisible but important barriers broken, between us, and together, and within me.

When the day's deeds are weighed and counted, I think I may have come out on the winning side, too.