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  • My middle daughter, Nina, turns 8 today. In her honor, I'm re-telling my favorite Nina story.
    -------------------------

    When my daughter, Nina, was six, she wrote a poem. I will never forget, even though she doesn't remember.

    Her inspiration struck during a 'lazy' Saturday morning. In my house, this means that she and her sisters are permitted to watch as much TV as they take so long as they leave me be in the kitchen, with my coffee and newspaper.

    That morning, Nina's two sisters, Caroline and Ally, had no problem cooperating. They padded into the TV room, settled themselves on the couch, and faithfully assumed the hard work of staring. Nina, on the other hand, insisted on traveling back and forth to the kitchen to forage for food like an indoor squirrel.

    Specifically, she hungered for yellow apples. After consuming more than one, she stopped by the kitchen table looking for pen and paper. She found both in front of me, and abruptly began writing furiously. She looked up once, casting me an impish grin to say, "Yes, notice me!" So notice her I did, with my usual mix of wonder and curiosity.

    Nina has always been a mystery to me. She doesn't look, think, or act like me. In fact, her personality is a perfect inversion of my own. She is left-brained to my right, literal to my abstract. She chooses fruit desserts over chocolate, likes cats to dogs, and prefers fact to fiction. One day, she bound out of school waving an oversized atlas. "Look, Mom!" she exclaimed. "A book full of maps. And ONLY maps!!!" Until that night, tucked in beside Nina, I had never read an atlas in my life.

    I've tried to bring the divide over the years, searching for activities we could share, or at least do at the same time. There's a name for this in early childhood development. It's called parallel play. It's what kids do when they want to be around each other but haven't figured out how to play with each other. It's a good metaphor for Nina and I, and describes well our long afternoon walks she was younger. She'd fill her pockets with rocks, rooting herself to the earth in purple-sandaled feet while I, only inches away, watched birds skitter above.

    Soon enough, Nina went off to elementary school and left me and our walks behind. So when Nina interrupted my 'me' time in the kitchen that lazy Saturday morning, I welcomed her quite companionship.

    She wrote for several minutes, blocking my view with her left arm, before sliding it in my direction. Before I could read it, she skipped out of the kitchen, apparently quite pleased with herself.

    I pulled the notebook towards me and read her note. And then I read it again, but slower. And slower still, so there was no mistake.

    Nina had written a poem. A BEAUTIFUL poem. About ME!

    'Mom is a
    Golden Delicious
    the softest apple
    in the world'

    I sat dazed for several minutes before it hit me like triumphant fireworks. Nina loved me!

    No matter how different we were, Nina loved me and found her poetic voice in telling me so. Of course, this all led to an even more amazing realization: Nina was a writer! We had something in common after all!

    My heart swelled with maternal pride, but it was my brain that went into overdrive. Surely her poetic talent needed to be acknowledged - encouraged even! And surely, as her muse, I was just the person to do it.

    I decided to answer her poetic gesture with a poem of my own. Except, I couldn't think of a poetic response half as good. Instead, I scribbled down a poem as quickly as I could (Nina is Nina, the sweetest name in the world), and called her back in the kitchen.

    "What's this?" Her angelic face clouded over with annoyance.

    I reached out to smooth her thick, unruly hair back behind her ear. "What's what, honey?"

    "Uh, this???" She backhanded the notebook in my face. "Where's my answer?"

    Thoughts ricocheted inside my head as I snatched the notebook out of her hands and studied the words anew. Eventually, I found it. Or rather, didn't find it. The missing punctuation.

    Mom(comma) is a
    Golden Delicious
    the softest apple
    in the world(question mark)

    Despite the hard reality of the situation staring me in the face, I wanted to cling to the idea of her words as poetry. Time refused to stand still so I forced myself to swallow my pride before answering Nina as lovingly as I could.

    "I don't know, Nina. Do YOU think Golden Delicious are the softest apples in the world?"

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY NINA!!!!!!!!!!!
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