For a day or so, two-year-old A has been dragging around a copy of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and insisting, "My book."
The first few times she declared it "hers" and started paging through it, my husband and I were charmed and our thoughts, comments, and questions showed it.
"She's so advanced!"
"A real feminist!"
"What do you think the impact of the first person point-of-view is on the reader-narrator relationship?"
Mostly A responded with "My book!"
We've been struggling a little with the whole notion of "mine" these days. I heard an Early Childhood and Family Education teacher once say that the "mine" phase was a necessary evil to get to the sharing stage. After a whole day of "My coat! My foot! My dog! My potty!" I find the "mine" phase mostly just evil.
The worst, perhaps, are the public "mine" meltdowns.
A and I make two or three visits a week to our local food co-op. (I know, food snobs. Feel free to hate us.) She genuinely seems to look forward to these trips. Mostly, her enthusiasm is because of the "tiny cart," as she calls the child-sized metal contraption that she gets to push around the store. I consider this these carts to be a blessing (I need to get her excited for our semi-weekly trips) and a curse (I spend much of my trip herding her along the aisles and making sure she doesn't ditch our tiny cart-full of food when she realizes there are samples available in the cheese department).
But the real problem with the tiny cart occurred the first few times I let her use one. At first, when she realized we had to leave it near the front of the store and could not bring it home with us, she was mildly bereft. "My cart," she mumbled as she watched from over my shoulder as it disappear behind the sliding doors.
"It belongs to the store," I explained. She was easily talked off the ledge. That time.
The next time, however, we returned the tiny cart to the otherwise empty corral just in time for another little boy to lay claim.
"My cart!" A screamed. She arched her back. She struggled against me trying to physically calm her with my arms already loaded with groceries.
I was confident that most of my fellow food snobs heard her scream all the way to the car. In a quieter moment, away from the immediacy of the cart and the food co-op and the little boy who had "taken" "her" cart, I tried to explain that the carts belong to everyone.
"We take turns," I explained because taking turns is something that she seems to understand better than "sharing." Taking turns is immediate, concrete. Your turn. My turn. Your turn. My turn. Whereas "sharing" is so abstract. Do we use it at the same time? Who does it really belong to?
After a few more trips to the co-op (during which she didn't have to witness someone actually taking "her" cart) and a few more calm, away from the moment discussions, ("If you want to use the tiny cart, you can't cry." "The cart is for everyone." "We take turns.") it finally seemed to sink it.
"Tiny cart," she'd say. "Take turns. No cry." And she seemed fairly happy about it.
But now I had this Margaret Atwood book to deal with.
One afternoon, I went to pick it up off the counter near where she was enjoying a snack.
"My book!" she declared and pulled it from my hands.
"No," I sighed. "It's Mama's book," as I reached for it.
"Mine!" she demanded in that terrible nasally, whiney, bratty voice.
It's that voice. It's that voice that does it to me.
"No. It's Mama's book."
It was the voice. It was that I just wanted to put the book away so that it would be on my adult bookshelf (and I don't mean "adult book" in any kind of pervy way) and not buried under nonsensical picture books in which animals talk and everybody spends way too much time counting and talking about colors! It was many things. But mostly, and I'm not happy to admit it, it was not one of my finer parenting moments.
"Look, Ada. It's Mama's book. You don't even have money to buy books. In fact, you can't even read it, much less get the subtleties of Atwood's style and message."
"NO," I exclaimed. And, no, I don't know why I didn't just let this go. I was turning into some sort of a toddler myself, desperate to lay claim to everything in my small, small kingdom. "This is Mama's book." I gave up on trying to actually put it away. "But you can take a turn with it."
"OK!" she exclaimed, her emotional state flipping like a coin tossed in the air.
"OK," I said. I walked away as she was commenting "birds flying!" as she looked at the cover illustration.
No, I thought. Those are the hats that the women have to wear in the story. You don't know anything about that book, do you? But later I realized that Atwood does call them "wings."
Had I won that argument? Had she learned something about what is and is not hers? I'd like to think that, if nothing else, she might have learned a little something about our separateness. When she was a newborn, I fretted over whether she would "bond" to me, if she would "attach" enough. But now there are days when I worry over her separating from me, over having boundaries between us. I want her to know she is her own person and, just as importantly, I am my own. We must, after all, go through this mine phase in order to understand sharing with each other. I want her to know that her body is hers and my body is mine. That my thoughts are mine. And hers are hers.
And that book, Goddamit. That book is mine.