Riding south on the Subway with Margaret after an afternoon at the H’s apartment.  Margaret is bundled against the cold, against the snow flurries that Steve showed her how to see by the light of streetlights as we walked in the early winter dark with Steve to the Red line. Her pink gingham fleece hat is loosely velcroed under her chin.  Her thin purple parka from Sears I have unzipped to her heart now that we are inside the train.  The blanket is still tucked around her and Baa Baa into the sides of the car seat stroller converter (transformer: more than meets the eye) into which she is buckled.   Having pulled her hands out from under the blanket, she is examining her thumbs, showing me the callous on her right thumb that is peeling.  “Mommy, I have an ouwie.”  

“That is from sucking your thumb,” I tell her.  “Does your other thumb have a callous also?” 

We look at her left thumb together.  The skin is slightly tougher, but smooth and intact.  “Looks to me like this one doesn’t taste as good to you.”  Margaret puts this thumb in her mouth to try it out.  “Yum, it tastes good.” And then removing it, “It is all for me, not for you.” 

“I don’t get to taste that thumb at all?” I ask.  “Can I taste this one little finger?”

She laughs and begins flailing her arms lovingly at my face—joy and fatigue both.  Avoiding being hit, I catch one as it passes and stroke it calmingly.  Just then I notice the dirt under her unclipped nails and remember your bathtub, solid white porcelain, being 8, a bath before a sleepover, and wondering what your fingernail brush was for.  White plastic back and bristles, length of my palm.  Looked worn with use. 

The train jolts and rumbles.  I hold Margaret’s soft hand in mine and your fingernail brush in my mind’s eye.  The weight of unwritten emails, syllabi, and grant proposals stiffens my shoulders.  So much to manage with little training in daily care of my environment.

 Alternate last lines:

  I begin to compose unwritten emails and  unwritten, a grant unsubmitted, and my clothes closet in a state that your mother would swoon to see.

   I feel an old anxiety rise that my mother’s love—and mine—may not be enough to teach you and me both how to care for all of our gifts in this world. 

 As the train rumbles and jolts your soft hand in mine, I and pondering the differences in our mothers’ attention to the dirt we let out and kept in.

In these last couple of lines, I want to say something about the difference in our upbringings.  I was not taught to brush the dirt out from under my nails, not taught to pick up my clothes, to empty out my bookbag, to do my homework before playing.  Now I struggle to take care of my clothes in my closet, my email, my hair.  I always feel like it piles up.  BUT, I have love in my childhood and love for my daughter that bubbles up naturally.  And much of your upbringing was cold, about being told what to do in a nitpicky way, critically.  Love is more important.  But should I as a mother and person in charge of my own stuff be working to upkeep it all more?         

M is also potty training at the moment.  Maybe something needs to be in those lines about my hope that love will win out in this tense time about trying to keep the dirt in the potty and not under her nails.  I did fear that the dirt was poop when I saw it, having cleaned two diapers and you not yet going poop in the potty—though honestly, maybe there’s more chance of poop on your hands once you are actually going and wiping yourself. 

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