She bends over her paper, intent. The black lines are crisp on the white paper, and she is drawing every scalloped leather edge on an ancient warrior's kilt, or every feather on Horus's wings. She will do this every day. Most will be abandoned for imperfections only she can see. A few will make it to the coloring stage, and she will fill the black lines from the canisters of colored pencils that sit low on our shelves, accessible to every small person.
When I had my first baby, a friend sent me a baby gift with a few lines of - I thought at the time- useless parenting advice. He said that nobody knew what they were doing in the beginning, but eventually you get into a parenting habit, and after a while discover there's a purpose to the habit. I have been a parent for eight years, and now I think his "advice" is brilliant.
When we started our kids in school, we tried violin lessons. We struggled for almost two years to transform our family culture into a musician's home. It was torture. It ended when my kids, who hated it as much as I pretended not to, blankly refused to practice or play, and their teacher refused in return to teach them. It was a mercy from him, and I am still grateful.
Now I see her bent over her drawing, and I realize: this is what I want for her. The free time I give the kids, my determination not to schedule their lives any more than the public school already does, and the ready availability I make of art materials - these have become a habit that reveals a purpose. I want her to have the chance to throw herself into something she loves just because she loves it. I want her to know the thrill of leisure time spent lost in what fascinates, because too soon she will be grown and her leisure time will all but disappear.
I want to give her the gift of love. Not just the love I feel for her, but the love she discovers for something else.
Since she was born, we have made up stories for each other. My stories for her and her sisters are often princess stories, fairy tales that begin "Once upon a time" and end with "happily ever after." But I don't make marriage the happy ending. Some people long to get married and never get to, and if my girls have that life, I do not want to add to their heartbreak by building in them the belief that marriage is their mother's expectation for them. Instead, my princesses have something they love to do, - flying kites, raising dragons, digging tunnels - and the happy ending comes when they find a way to do that thing for the rest of their lives.
My stories whisper that I want them to find a vocation in life, a calling that satisfies something deep in their soul, whether that is marriage and motherhood or something else.
And I think of that when I tape her new drawing to the kitchen wall (our fridge ran out of space long ago), wondering if this will be her lifelong love, or if she is still waiting to meet it.