Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pas de Zoey

Zoey is a shy girl, curling between my legs to hide from strangers. She studies the world with her large eyes unblinking, smiling only when she is sure. Of what, I don't know.

Smile! Men have shouted at me from their cars and on sidewalks, an assault of supposed good intentions that makes me scowl into the collar of my coat. I am the girl by the hors d'oeuvres table, the one who excuses herself to find the restroom, the girl you get stuck talking to, except she does not speak. I prefer my gatherings small, not my talk.

Every Sunday we go to a music show for kids called Breakfast with Enzo. Zoey loves Enzo, might be in love with him as only a two year old girl can be with a man who plays the saw. There is a point in his first song when he pauses the accordian and sticks out his hand for the kids to shake. Zoey runs up to shake his hand, then runs back to bury her head in my chest. Then she runs up to shake his hand again, and back, again to Enzo, stands there in front of him long past the pause in the song. She stares at Enzo playing the accordian, enrapt. Zoey, I say, psst! Come back!
Don't operate your kids, Enzo gently tells the parents each Sunday. Let them discover the music themselves. Clap, let them watch you sing so that they may sing themselves. And yet every Sunday I see parents with their children on their laps. They take the hands of the children and clap them together woodenly, yay! High falsetto and happy, marionettes clacking, operating instructions tucked neatly into back pockets, the troubleshooting guide particularly dog-eared. I have been known to do the same; Zoey's small hands fit so neatly inside my own.
At the park Zoey waits her turn. She watches the other kids before she climbs, pauses before she leaps. Jump! I say as kids push past her. Jump! My voice high because I want her to know the exhilaration of falling. (The exhilaration of pushing if I am honest.)
Why hello! What's your name? the cashier at the supermarket asks. Zoey looks down at her raisins and so I answer for her, my fingers plucking at strings.
At Enzo's, Zoey twirls. Around and around and around. I think she's going to be a drug addict, I whisper to my dad who has come along for the show. She likes being dizzy. Pas de chat, pas de chat, pas de chat, Zoey chants softly under her breath, a ballet term from one of her favorite DVD's, except it comes out sounding like padasshhh, padasshh, padasshhh. Zoey, I stop her waist from turning anymore. Want to dance out there with those other girls? She can hardly focus her eyes, the famed aftermath of a tilt-a-whirl girl, but I point to the center of the room where little kids are hopping and jumping, holding hands. Enzo is playing the banjo. It is so difficult not to operate your child. You want them to be fearless, bold, confident. To be better, not so much better than themselves, but better than you. You want them to toe tap and smile, to stand far away from the table of hors d'oeuvres, to sing their name as if it were the easiest and only note in the room. Zoey! Smile! An assault of supposed good intentions. And yet when she smiles it is real, it is full, it is pure, it is the best, her small feet the soft steps of a cat.


Jen said...

That was so random but so lovely. Leah is the complete opposite of Zoey, where she talks to EVERYONE, whether they pay attention to her or not. Especially men! Hmm...wonder where she could have gotten that from?

Your Ill-fitting Overcoat said...

I don't have children yet, but I think about this a lot. I think it will be my biggest struggle as a mom. You're so insightful in your writing, you describe this beautifully.

And I've had the same experience, of strangers always telling me to smile. I also frequently have strangers on the bus tell me to take off my headphones. "Don't be afraid to talk to people," strangers say to me, though I am a grown-ass adult who talks to people all the damn day. Maybe I just want to listen to my favorite song right now. And maybe I'm not in the mood to smile for you.

A good lesson in general... to not try to "operate" others... we all do it, I suspect, in one way or another.

The Lil Bee said...

Could that little face be any more precious? Shy is good. She is taking it all in and making smart decisions. She's got one on all of us:)

Elena said...

Oh I HATE when strangers feel the need to tell me to smile! Its up there on the list of most annoying things ever. It doesn't matter to me if I see random people throughout my day who aren't chipper all the time so why does it bother others so much?!

Petunia said...

Operating your, what a great phrase. So many reasons why people not just parents do it. We sort of never stop doing it. Why do you make me think about this stuff? It could mean I might have to think about behaving better in the operating part of my life! But when you know you're right, it's so hard not to share all that rightness with others! It's just polite. Ya, know?

Chessa! said...

Reading this I realize that it is exactly how I feel about my unborn kids. I worry about them and they are not even here yet. I love the way your write about your daughter. It's so honest and real and relatable.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Thank you for this post. I watch mine in her shy skin, her forehead buried in my thigh if we're standing, my back if not. It hurts me a little to watch her cower, I feel like she'd rather not be wrapped up tight in this people-fear, like it would feel so much freer to be let out. But I can't force her out and up toward others, I can only answer when someone (everyone) asks her name. And sometimes I'd rather not answer for her, I want to give her a little push toward what is, after all, inevitable. "Just tell them your name, sweetheart." But she wouldn't (couldn't?) tell them even if I pushed. And sometimes I watch her rush toward me, face meeting thigh, and I am grateful that I can still be her shelter.

ak said...

just found ur blog- and i love it! Zoey is so beautiful!

Anonymous said...

I too am painfully shy and think that may be why I don't have children myself. I don't want to go through it all again.

suzannemarques said...

My goodness, I can relate to this post. I was always the child who hid in my mother's arms, yet was bossy like Zoey is with you.

I think shy people are more perceptive and caring - I'm biased of course - but how you encouraged her to push?

My mother ever so gently encouraged me to go for things I wanted and while I was petrified of lots of things, she was often the one who gave me courage to try. I am so thankful she has been my strength when I had fear!

Reluctant Housewife said...

Wow. Beautiful post.