Her wonder is my joy. Every time she gasps at an airplane overhead or the rumble of a passing train, I smile and doubt the name I’ve given her.
My hopes for her were strength and humility; I named her accordingly, yet she surprised me with her wonderment and easy but long, hard laughs. I never expected anything from me to act like that, so I am never quick to claim its genesis in me.
I am happy to blame it on my husband. He made me laugh.
On the sidewalk yesterday, a woman named Margaret caught up with our family. I was putting mittens on my daughter’s freezing hands that were clinging to a sugar cookie she wasn’t ready to surrender. Margaret smiled at us, pushing a cart half-full of plastic sacks containing her groceries that weren’t wet from the rain yet. Everything about her was classically stylish, from her long, fashionable coat belted at the waist to her mauve knitted winter hat capping her silver, wavy bob.
Observing our daughter and eyeing my hair, she asked, “What color is the child’s hair under that hat?”
“Oh, so she takes after Dad.”
“Yeah, it will probably be brown soon or eventually,” I said.
“What about the eyes? Are they blue?”
Margaret laughed and told us her name.
I told her about my child’s generally happy disposition and remarkable capacity to marvel. She’s made entire cars full of train passengers cheer with her antics.
“That’s a testament to you,” she said.
I laughed at her.
“No, really,” she said. “I’m old enough to know. I’m older than 80, and I’ve thought about things. My friends who grew up to be sour and angry people — there’s a reason for it. It was their goddamn childhood.”
Margaret never flinched when she cursed, using a word I can’t bring myself to say because she enjoyed her young life in Chelsea. She’s lived there since 1934, watching the changes. She said she never married or had children, but she didn’t have to have kids for them to mean much to her. She’s mused about why things happen, and she thinks that a lot of the bad things find their roots in ugliness overshadowing or killing innocence.
“They saw fighting,” she said. “It was horrible what happened to them.”
And there, we parted after she told us to keep up the good work.
As much as I appreciated the affirmation, I can’t give myself too much credit. Nurture guides a great deal of my child’s development, but the more I watch her, the more I’m convinced of her incredible nature. Thinking of those children and their goddamn childhoods, I pray I never screw it all up.