Moments ago, I tucked you into your crib upstairs. I had a good cry on my way back down the stairs. During my soggy musings, my thoughts stopped on the subject of promises. It seems like on TV shows, if a main character promises to save someone, this is an automatic death sentence for the person they're talking to. This disingenuous line of thinking seems to permeate our society, from the prevalence and glorification of fake friends, to blatant lying and breaking of vows.
As my Grammy always said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” As your mother, I know it's my duty to teach you the old way and about the virtue of having a word of honor.
Mosi Mae, on the blood of your birth, I make this is my testament to you:
When I carried you upstairs and asked if you were sleepy, you wrinkled your nose with disgust and pointed to your brother's room. I set you down; you immediately padded into his room and picked up a LEGO Batman figure. Earlier this evening, you had repeatedly poked me in the butt and thigh with that figure. I had turned toward you in irritation—ready to yell at you to stop it—but in the moment it took me to breath before scolding you, I realized you were making a kissing sound every time Batman bounced off my bum. In your play world, Batman fights for justice and love.
By the tenacity of my heart, I swear to you, I will be your advocate, protector and moderator. I will not fight all you battles, but I will help you stratigize, heal and, if needed, be on your front lines. If you are in the wrong, I will help you fix any rifts.
With your dark knight in hand, you attempted to scale your brother's big-cat, twin bed. Your tail lashed as you tried to swing your leg up. I thought you were trying to prove how big you are and demonstrate that you're ready for a big bed of your own. Instead, you were trying to get closer to the animal map on the wall. I picked you up and told you how capybaras are the largest rodents, mandrills are old world monkeys, and how all big cats belong to the genus Panthera. You started pointing to the animal stickers so quickly that I could barley say their name before you'd moved onto the next one.
By the wisdom in my skull, I swear to you that I will nourish your inquisitive nature and encourage creativity. As you grow, I will help you find information that whets your thirst for knowledge, and I will support you in your activities that build your strength and support your health.
I picked a plush fawn puppet off the floor. You had picked it out at the arboretum's gift shop last week when we'd gone for a run through the autumn leaves. I made a kissing sound as I touched its nose to your cheek. You smiled and hugged its neck, causing it to bend at a ninety degree angle; we walked across the hallway to your room. I gently set you down with your head on your Wonder Woman pillow, snuggled you into your into your favorite, soft blanket, and left your tail uncovered. You serenely watched me straighten.
“ I'm going to put Batman right here, okay?” I set him on the window sill as you nodded, unblinking, then you slowly, gently started waving. I momentarily considered picking you back up—to hug your sweet, tiny body, lick your ears, and rub my face in your mane.
I lived an eternity in that instant; I aged exponentially.
By the compassion of my liver, I swear to you that I will not be your friend, nor will I be your enemy. I will push you farther than you think you go. I will listen to your frustrations. I will offer advice. You are not a subservient creature for me to domineer; you are not a pet for me to dress up and display. You are my child. Through commitment, discipline and love, I will raise you to become my equal.
Finally, the laborious moment passed and I decided, since you had not asked to be picked up and disturbed, it was a selfish temptation. I walked to the doorway, switched off the light, and turned as I grasped the door handle. Your little hand was still waving. I closed the door and my soul shattered.
I stumbled down the hallway to the stairs and clutched the hand rail for support. I managed the first step without stumbling, but after the second step, I sat to avoid falling and, in the process, bent my tail painfully. My sobs echoed in the stairwell—I mentally admonished myself for crying in the nosiest part of the house—but I had to mourn.
Life will take your innocent, gentleness and you will grow jaded. I'm going to miss the cub you are—but I will love the manticore you grow into. Although life will make you hard, it doesn't have to make you cruel. As you grow, there will be a strange power struggle that you will be thrust into, even against those you love.
Your manticore family believes in the strength of our teeth, but your father descends from giants. I've watched the women in his (now my) family profess to love and support each other, but erode each other with occasional, backward compliments and almost constant insults. I was spared from the venomous vitriol for several years, until after you were born. You were a happy, roly-poly creature. Your aunt suggested I put water in your bottle instead of formula. I didn't growl, but my lips pulled back—not in a smile—and my tail lashed rapidly. I think my stinger extended also, which was very rude, but at the time I felt justified. She mumbled something about a joke and quickly left the room.
I will set a principled standard for you and lead by example. I will hold you accountable, but you must hold me accountable, too. If I'm culpable, I'll make amends.
My family is not perfect either. They placed more importance on talent than practice. This was very evident by our approach to physical education; I was fantastic at badminton but horrible at everything else. I was fine accepting that because we had decided that everyone in the family was atrocious at gym. It wasn't until college, with its wide variety of dance classes and weightlifting options, that I realized we'd just settled for mediocre.
I vow to help you grow into the best version of you.
I also remember being very bothered when I would tell my mother about a new interest. If she didn't care about the subject, she would respond, “You don't like that,” without giving me a chance to learn more and form an opinion of my own. I could never figure out if it was a lie—because clearly I did like what I was interested in—or an ineffective means of persuasion. As you will likely notice overtime, I am a very different beast from my mother. And you will be a different beast than me.
I swear on my honor, on my devotion, on my life.
All these memories threatened to drown me with regret and fear as I sobbed in the stairwell. The vision of the old oaths was what saved me and I gasped for air. In the old days, when gods made pacts with men, there would be a sacrifice. A creature would be split in two and the pieces would be placed on either side of a gully. The one making the vow would walk through the resulting river of blood. If they broke their promise, their life was forfeit; their body would be desecrated like that of the sacrificial animal. Oaths like that have fallen out of favor and been replaced by the meaningless pinkie promise. You can live without your pinkies.
This is my testament to you, my love.
Growing up is a terrifying, beautiful and, sometimes, dangerous journey, my dear Mosi, but I will be with you. You, too, must be courageous during this tremulous adventure of life. You are brave enough.