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Niceties
by Amy Silverman

Toward the end of Annabelle’s most recent parent/teacher conference, her kindergarten teacher dropped the bomb. Almost as an aside, the she  mentioned that one day, not long ago, the kids started talking about God, and Annabelle announced, loudly, “I don’t believe in God!”

I have to admit that I felt just a tiny bit proud of my five-year-old. I’m an avowed agnostic (if there can be such a thing) and so is my husband, Ray, and while we’ve never said anything to Annabelle about God, she must have picked up something through osmosis.

The pride was followed, of course, by the fall – even as the teacher continued to talk, explaining how she handled the delicate situation. She did a fine job, I got that much, but I wasn’t really paying attention. I had too much to figure out.

As far as I’m concerned, religion is a great thing, the stuff that’s held societies together (and, sure, ripped them apart) for centuries. Bottom line, religion tends to make people nice to each other, if only for fear of eternal damnation. If there’s a religion in our house, it’s The Golden Rule, but let’s face it, a Time Out every once in a while works wonders. To me, Hell is one really long, hot Time Out.

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So how do I teach my older daughter to be good, just for heck of it? I can’t help but look at Annabelle through the prism of her younger sister, Sophie. Sophie has Down syndrome. She’s the one, if the stereotypes hold true, who will always be good, just for the heck of it. Already, at three, she reaches for hugs from strangers, blows kisses to everyone, offers a concerned “bless you” when I sneeze.

Unlike her sister, Annabelle is not genetically predisposed to kindness. If anything, as my daughter, she’s destined to be snarky. But at five, Annabelle’s already showing signs of love for her fellow man that far surpass any I’ve ever displayed.

The other night, I took the girls to the mall after work. I was exhausted, but Sophie begged, so we did our usual routine – hit the indoor playground and the Disney store, then wound up at the food court for dinner. I was balancing pretzel dogs and lemonade when a woman working at the bourbon chicken place got in my face, asking if I’d like a sample.

“NO!” I said, waving away the dripping, toothpicked meat she offered, not meaning to be rude, but focused on trying to hold Annabelle’s hand and push Sophie’s stroller without bumping into or tripping anyone (including myself).

It didn’t occur to me that Annabelle might have heard me.

We ate our pretzel dogs, and the girls asked for ice cream, so we bought the smallest cones they had at Dairy Queen. Annabelle sat quietly, licking her vanilla cone. Then she pointed to a woman who, like the bourbon chicken lady, was offering samples – these were Japanese stir fry.

“Mommy, can we try that lady’s chicken?” she asked.

“Sweetie, aren’t you full? You just ate dinner,” I answered.

“But I want to make that lady happy,” Annabelle said. “She wants us to try her chicken.”

So after we finished our cones, Annabelle tried the lady’s chicken. Sophie had some, too. We offered our compliments and got in the car and drove home.

And I felt more than just a tiny bit proud of my five-year-old.
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About the Author:  
Amy Silverman
lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband Ray Stern and daughters Annabelle and Sophie. When she's not wiping noses and butts at home, she's associate editor of New Times, the alt weekly in Phoenix, where she also spends a lot of time wiping noses and butts -- and editing. She's a contributor to KJZZ, the Phoenix NPR affiliate, and although having kids has pretty much limited her traveling to San Diego and Disneyland, she's been writing quite a bit lately for The New York Times travel section. Amy's proud to say she's been published by both Playboy and Fit Pregnancy, and that John McCain once yelled, "Can't you shut your daughter up?" at her father in the Senate dining room, to which her father responded that that was impossible. Amy likes to balance her motherfucker persona at the alt weekly by co-teaching the Mothers Who Write workshop, which focuses on memoir/fiction and poetry for mothers of all ages and writing experiences.

 

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