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An Obsessive Trait

Seeing how different my children are from myself can be jarring. But seeing how much we’re alike is more of a shock.
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Smart Mama

Emma is obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Every night, we read a chapter from “Little House in the Big Woods,” and then she tucks the book under her pillow.

She listens to “Little House on the Prairie” on tape during quiet time. She dreams about wearing bonnets, making maple snow and riding in a wagon across the open plain. Something about the simple life, even with its scarlet fever, roaming wolves and prairie fires, has completely enchanted her 6-year-old mind.

At times, I’ll glance at her, see her eyes wide but unseeing and a small smile on her face. “What are you doing?” I’ll interrupt the daydream, even though I know the answer.

“Thinking about Laura,” she’ll answer.

The funny thing is, I know exactly how she feels. Like Emma, I fall deeply in love with stories, reading my favorites again and again. When I was her age, it was “Ramona and Her Father.” As I got older, I couldn’t put down “Anne of Green Gables,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Watership Down,” “The Outsiders.”

And, yeah, I just might be counting down the days until “New Moon” the movie comes out, and I’m only slightly embarrassed to be seen in public with my “Team Edward” T-shirt.

Seeing how different my children are from myself — such as Benny’s natural ease and Emma’s brilliant intuition — can be jarring. But seeing how much we’re alike is more of a shock.

Emma will smile at something ironic, and I see not just myself, but my dad. Benny’s laugh is a duplicate of his father’s infectious half-cackle, half-chuckle, and, like him, he can time that laugh perfectly to defuse what could’ve been irritating.

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But not all of these shared traits are positive. Emma seems to have inherited my incessant worrying.

“I can’t go to sleep,” she recently told me an hour past bedtime, after two trips to the bathroom, one request for water and an oh-yeah-forgot-to-brush-my-teeth excuse for getting out of bed.

“Why not?” I asked her.

“I’m going to die.”

“You’re 6 years old. You’re healthy and strong. You’re not going to die.”

“But I’m getting older every day,” she tells me. Deep, philosophical thoughts robbed me of sleep, too, when I was a half-pint.

After an hour or so of trying to convince Emma that she has a long, happy life stretched out before her, I saw I wasn’t going to talk her out of her fear, but I was allowing her to delay bedtime. “I know you’re scared right now. And you know it’s bedtime. We’ll talk about this more in the morning, but right now you need to go to bed.”

And, because she is my daughter and has my inability to back down from an argument, she crossed her arms and stood in front of me.

In that moment I realized something even more shocking. I am, in fact, my mother. Because I found myself saying the words that I swore I’d never utter when I became a mother: “Get your little butt in bed right now.”


Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township in Pennsylvania with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 2. For more Smart Mama columns, click here.


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