Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Death of the Delicate Chicken

Valentine's Day has just passed, so in retail terms, that means it's Easter season. And for three-year-old Livie, that means it's Delicate Chicken season.** This week we were at Party City with friends, helping them pick out b-day party supplies, when we spotted a six-pack of those two-inch high furry, fragile, yellow chicks -- only $1.99. Last year's D.C. had long since perished, so I bought a new pack. Livie gave one to her little boy friend, and then proceeded to name the other five: Willum, Willie, Nini, Cheesey, and Lee.

My friend and I began to debate whether or not we could top cupcakes for her barnyard birthday party with the chicks, or if the kids would try to eat them. By the time we got to the parking lot we had our answer. Her son had bitten off and chewed up both the delicate chicken's plastic legs. Livie promptly -- an uncharacteristically -- gave him another of her precious chicks (Cheesey Chick), leaving her with four. It's five days later and all but one of the remaining delicate chickens have either been lost or perished. It's a bit sad.

Not nearly so sad, but definitely poignant for me, is the death of the appropriateness of our favorite nickname for Liv. Soon after she fell in love with her first plastic Easter chick, Daddy nicknamed our daughter the Delicate Chicken. It was our code, so we could talk about her timid personality within her earshot without doing psychological damage. Livie was afraid of heights particularly; she wouldn't go on swings, slides, or in bounce houses. She wouldn't climb playground ladders, or even walk down certain flights of stairs. She was afraid to stand anywhere near the ocean, or jump to us in the pool. Any new experience was an experience to be feared. This was in stark contrast to our fearless first-born Sophia.

But in the last month, a change has occurred. Besides growing an entire inch in the month of December, Livie has grown chutzpah as well. She's scaling playground equipment, swooshing down the twistiest of slides, and this weekend, yelled from inside a bounce house, "Mommy, look, I'm bouncing on my feet!" I took her to the beach last week, and she was playing chicken with the surf and got soaked to the skin.

It's bittersweet. The sweetness: I love seeing my kids go at life full throttle. Mama doesn't raise no sissies, friends. As a kid I loved being the kind of girl who would pick up a lizard or jump in the ocean; as an adult, I love karaoke bars, bodysurfing and fast roller coasters. My neighbor calls me if she needs a spider squished or a lizard caught in her condo. So I'm so glad if I can raise girls who are up for adventures.

But the bitter part is that I had Livie so pegged as my "timid" child. I even blogged about how my kids had labeled themselves, and had come out of the womb with their distinct personalities. That's still true--the distinctness anyway. But the humbling truth is that it's way too early for me to be thinking I've got these kids figured out. I knew better. I know even better now.

My mother in law often repeats a saying to me: "Kids will make liars of you every time." Just as soon as you say, "Oh, my kids love cauliflower," they refuse to eat it at Grandma's house. Though no one studies my kids closer than I do, spends as much time with them as I do, cares for them as much as I do, sometimes I can get too close to them to see them for what they are. And I never want them to hear me saying, "Oh, she won't do that, eat that, go there..." etc., because I might be wrong. And I'd hate to hold them back because I think I know everything there is to know about them.

So, back to the sweetness in the bittersweet death of the Delicate Chicken. I'm proud to watch her grow braver and bolder. And I'm happy to say that -- instead of making a liar of me -- she can always still surprise me.

***If you've been reading this blog since it started in July, you know that my daughter Livie fell in love last Easter with a tiny, fragile chick made of pipe cleaner-like material. I told her to be careful of it, because it was very delicate, and she in turn named it The Delicate Chicken.

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