Nov 19, 2018
That swing-set. It was made of varnished, mahogany wood, freshly-shipped from China, put together with all the expertise and grit of two, wined-up Dads on a Saturday afternoon. This swingset, which stood diametrically across from my patio, had become a kingdom for me and my best friend, Kaisa. Everyday after school, I’d rush to finish whatever second-grade assignment that had been slapped onto my plate and meet her at the swingset. We’d spend afternoons like that, lazily atop our childhood kingdom, eating muscadines from the vine in her backyard, critiquing the latest Spongebob episode, and occasionally, sneaking fruit-roll ups that would have sent shockwaves through Kaisa’s uber-healthy household. Those days, when we’d crunch the mulch under our soles and sunlight would darken our skin, life was as it should be.
But today was different. Cornered inside my dank living room, with the hiss of the vacuum ringing in my ears, I was shut off from my glorious, mahogany kingdom. Why? Well, the stupid sub had decided we needed to color in a flower for homework, something that in my refined second-year old opinion, was utterly unpalatable (I had seen a flower before, and knew perfectly well what one looked like). Nevertheless, I popped open the lid of my personal crayon bin, sat crouched over the coloring sheet on the kitchen counter, and scribbled out the quickest flower I could, greens and yellows outside the lines.
“Meli, what is that?” said my mom from behind me.
“My homework, Mom. Just finished,” I said, popping the crayon bin closed again.
“It doesn’t look like it to me.”
“Mom, it’s fine. I want to go over to Kaisa’s.”
“No you’re not. Not until you finish this and do it right.”
“I already did!”
She glanced at my shoddy work as rebuttal.
“Meli, you can’t go to Kaisa’s until you finish this and do a good job. You have been spending a lot of time over there anyway, and I feel like you need to be paying more attention in your work,” my mother added.
“That’s not fair, Mom!”
“No, Amelia. You’re going to sit right here and redo the flower”
Rage filled me from the top of my piggy-tails to the bottom of my shoes. Who did she think she was, my mother, telling me what to do? All the while, the precious daylight was being eaten away. Instantly, the image of my mother was bleary and my paper was wet with tears. I grabbed the paper and crumpled it up, my pudgy fingers The sympathy I expected from my mother was replaced by disapproval. My mother scuttled away, and just as soon as I thought I could escape to Kaisa’s, she sat back down next to me, a newly-printed flower stencil in one hand and our best colored pencils my mom had saved from Colombia.
“I know you can do this better. If you’re gonna do something, Amelia, do it right” my mom said.
At first, she tried to hand me the colors, which was a difficult task considering my arms were tucked under my armpits while I made “nuh-uh!” noises with my lips sealed. She grabbed the pencils (Bendito dios mija I’ll just do this myself…) and began coloring, making warm magenta petals with the swish of a hand, a ripe sun in the background, a thick stem and even grass for the flower to stand in. Quietly, after brooding behind her for at least ten minutes, I grabbed my green crayon and colored in what was left. As much as I hated to admit it, this stupid flower, and this stupid assignment, was actually kind of pretty. Soon, the puffiness in my eyes calmed, the snot dribbling from my nose subsided.
We finished, and looked at our work.
“See? This is much better”
I started to well up again. A new, foreign feeling—shame—made my chest burn.
“I’m sorry mom. I didn’t do it right the first time, I messed up...”
She took me in her arms, her embrace as warm as a kettle.
“It’s okay, honey” she rubbed my back.
Then, she held me at arm’s length.
“But listen. In this house, we don’t do things half-ass, and you always do your very best.
The very best of your ability”
She gave my shoulder a firm squeeze.
“Now you can go play with Kaisa, pulga.”