I'm standing in the canned food aisle at the market, trying to keep track of my shopping list while shuffling Buttercup along with me. "What do I need to put in the cart now, Mama?" she asks me, eager to help.
I check my list. Next up are the ingredients for the black bean chili.
"Six cans of black beans," I say, waiting to see what she'll do next.
Buttercup puckers her lips in concentration and looks hard at the cans of beans on the shelves. Each can has a photo and black starts with the "buh buh" sound, right, mama?
"These!" she says excitedly as she shows me the correct can.
"Ok, how many did I need again?"
"Right. So, gimme six cans."
I watch as she runs between the cart and the shelf, one can at a time, skipping right by the number five like she always has, and I gently correct her. The job is done and she's ready for her next assignment.
"Excuse me," I hear a gentle voice behind me just as a soft touch lands on my shoulder. I turn to see an elderly woman standing there, smiling up at me. I instantly step to the side, thinking I am in her way, but she stops me.
"I just wanted to tell you, dear, what a lovely job you are doing with your daughter. So many times you see the little ones kicking and screaming when out with their mamas when all it takes is a little bit of thought on your part to get them to think a whole lot on theirs. She's learning," the woman says, nodding her chin at a smiling Buttercup, "and you should be proud."
And I was.
Buttercup and I are walking hand in hand across the parking lot on the way into my doctor's office.
"Thank you for letting me bring my baby in," she says, clutching her doll to her chest.
"That was your choice. Now, what did I tell you will happen if you ask me to hold her?" I gently prod.
"That's easy. You said I bring her in so I have to bring her out."
I nod. "Exactly. If you give her to me, I'm handing her to the first little girl I see."
She looks up at me and studies my face. Nancy Drew is trying to determine how serious I am.
Buttercup charms the nurses and the doctor and acts the part of an angel until the very minute I say it's time to leave. That's when she suddenly decides she is tired and can't possibly carry her doll one more step.
"Will you carry her, mama?" she whines, placing her doll on the chair closest to her in the waiting room.
I shake my head firmly. "What did I say on the way in?" I ask her.
"I dunno," she says, looking away from me. So I remind her.
"You brought her in so you bring her out. If you put your doll down, I'm not picking it up. If you give it to me because you got tired of carrying it, I'm handing it to the first little girl I see," I say, pointing to a child sitting next to her mother in the waiting room. I'm suddenly aware that we have an audience and both mother and child are staring intently, waiting for our little scene to play out. "How would you feel if I suddenly got tired of taking care of you and just left you sitting here while I went home?"
Her eyes wide, Buttercup reaches for her doll and holds her to her chest again. "That would be horrible."
"Exactly," I say. "You are my responsibility. And that doll is your responsibility. I take care of you and..."
"I take care of my doll," she finishes for me.
The other mother is smiling at me. A we leave, she gives me a nod and gives the a thumbs up. And I suddenly feel like I might survive motherhood.
Or at least today. Yeah, today I can handle.