This past Sunday I lost my keys. I did not panic; I did not skip too many beats. Instead, I grabbed the spare keys and my 2-year-old daughter Lucinda, and I picked up a prescription and a few items at the grocery store, where I held on for dear life to a miniature grocery cart Luci drove.
She placed organic bananas (her choice), graham crackers, and her beloved pork breakfast sausage patties into the tiny cart, and then she ran full throttle to the free cookie for children 10 and under at the store’s bakery and to the end cap with bubbles and various bubble-blowing contraptions placed, of course, at her eye level.
Thankfully, there was a parental grip located high on a bright red poll attached to the miniature grocery cart, next to a plastic flag that proclaimed that Luci was a “customer in training.” The economic wheel of consumerism begins early, and I’m sure the St. Louisans who own this grocery store know the plight of the toddler parent, whereby the grocery cart seat has become intolerable since “I can do it!” became a constant refrain.
Holding on to that poll was like riding a roller coaster, hoping the bar would hold while the coaster does a loop-the-loop. I held on tightly in the hopes of guiding my daughter through the worst possible route to take a newly minted grocery-cart driver–the wine aisle. A stocker unloading boxes upon boxes of bottled wine quickly moved his pallet as we fishtailed through the aisle, somehow never making contact with glass bottles of sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, cabernet, merlot, and sparkling wines galore.
The fact that we harmed no alcohol or people during this trip is a victory unto itself.
You have not lived until you have experienced the unpredictable thrill of having a two year old guide a toddler-sized cart through a busy grocery store on a Sunday afternoon.
My husband told me I was crazy to have let her drive in the first place, but I do not think so. I think part of my responsibility as a parent is to teach Luci to steer her own ship or, in this small case, a tiny grocery cart.
This grocery-store venture is a preview of what is to come, of allowing Luci to learn by doing. In the big moments of her life there will likely be no safety grip, no mother redirecting the cart to the left, or no kind stocker who gets out of the way simply because she is barreling down the polished floors.
So we practice the death-defying art of Luci gaining control as I lose it. We negotiate the items we place in her cart in simple terms. I try to give her choices. I think of her voice when I place her in her carseat and she says brightly, “Momma happy; Luci happy.” She is so proud of herself, of not having to be a passive presence in the front of an adult-sized grocery cart, hoping I will listen to her desires, her needs.
Luci’s confidence and the essential ability to solve her own problems, even at age 2, are skills she needs now. Skills she will also need as she grows up in this world, a world I will not always be in, no matter how much I would like to see where my daughter’s life goes. As Laura M. Lippman, a journalist turned crime fiction novelist, wrote, “Motherhood is a story where I don’t control the ending.”
On this Monday, while Luci is at preschool and I am writing this, I ask Twitter the following question:
What do you call it when you no longer get overly concerned if you lose something? The remote, an earring, your keys, your cell phone? Not all at once, of course, but these things used to make my day ‘horrible’ & now I’m like meh, I’ll find ’em eventually (which is usually true).
My Internet friend Katelyn Delvaux, a poet and professor I have met exactly once outside of Twitter, answers thus:
The Elizabeth Bishop Effect? One Arting? Lol
So I reread Bishop’s poem, “One Art,” and remember, yet again, her maxim: “Lose something every day.” While I found my keys later that Sunday (in the laundry basket, of course, because why not?), I am also eager to keep practicing loss.
My ability to let go, of my expectations, of veiled control, make each day that much more surprising, especially with my child. And a loss for loss’ sake is not, of course, intrinsically joyous or romantic, but what choice do I have as a parent other than to prepare myself and my child for a world where we will one day lose each other?
So I tell myself this as well: The art of loss can also be joyful, like trailing a brilliant comet while dissolving into the dust and gas that once formed it.