816 North Opinion

Susan Vollenweider: The best boxes are the ones you don’t plan for

I stood behind her, wide tooth comb in one hand, theoretical plan in my head.

“Make it pretty?” she asked.

I soaked her hair with detangling spray then carefully drew the comb through it. She was 4 with a frizzy bob that looked like pale, yellow cotton candy on her head. I had formed a theory and a plan after she had played in the sprinkler the day before and air drying had left her with perfect ringlets.

From the moment that I knew I would have a daughter I had plans. Great plans. Mostly plans that never materialized.

We were going to have tea parties every day!

We were going to have matching mommy-daughter outfits on holidays!

We would go to “The Nutcracker” every Christmas, we would spend whole weeks at the beach, ride roller coasters together and go to so many movies that turning her light out at good-night would make her hungry for popcorn.

The reality from 20 years down the road? We had a few tea parties but mostly they were kind of boring and made a mess.

I think we both wore black velvet dresses to church on Christmas once. Maybe.

We never went to “The Nutcracker,” her super-fair skin made the beach hazardous, and she preferred reading a book to watching a movie. By the time my daughter summoned up the courage to tell me that she didn’t like roller-coasters, I had learned that my plans were just that: plans, and there was an excellent chance that they would never be memories.

But I’ve learned about the box.

I think most parents have a box story. You know the one: you went all over town to find your kid the perfect gift and you defined glee waiting for them to open it.

But what happened? They opened the gift, smiled, maybe said thank you…and then they played with the box. The box was amazing! It was a boat! A house! A dump truck! It was the greatest toy ever!

Be the box.

Plans are good and necessary, but the surprise of the box is better. Case in point: My daughter’s minor medical procedure last week. The plan: a mother-daughter experience with me cast in a June Cleaver meets Mary Poppins meets Florence Nightingale role.

Her doctor had given her a mild relaxer before the appointment, and it was still in her system when we went into a nearby drugstore afterward. June/Mary/Florence are nowhere in my daughter’s new memory of us standing in the hair color aisle discussing what bright hue would look best on her and the 15 minutes we spent in serious Pinterest study of our “hidden rainbow highlights” options.

She’s going to remember that I then let her lead me on a pointless meander through a home goods store.

She is going to remember the goblets.

“Oooh!” she said pointing to a large, golden wine glass on a shelf of stemware.

I picked it up, “It’s plastic!”

In a this-is-the-most-amazing-thing voice (or maybe it was the Xanax talking), she said, “PLAAAASTIC!”

She’s going to remember that I laughed at her. Not with her: at her.

But best, she is going to remember that she laughed at herself, too.

A couple of nights later I stood behind her, wide tooth comb in one hand, a box of pink and purple hair dye in the other and a theoretical plan gleaned from YouTube videos in my head.

“Make it pretty?” she asked before taking a sip of ice water from a new, golden goblet.

I dragged the comb through hair that had changed a lot since she was 4 and the plan was to change it a lot that night.

But first we had to open the box.

Susan Vollenweider and her daughter (and the boys) live in Smithville. To listen to the women’s history podcast that she co-hosts or to read more of her writing visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com.