It was a picture-perfect autumn Saturday. I was walking hand in hand with my daughter, Bea, on a quiet downtown block dotted with cute boutiques and trendy restaurants. Suddenly, something in a store window stopped me dead in my tracks.
“Oh, my God,” I muttered breathlessly.
Following my gaze, Bea squeezed my hand tight. We stood still for a minute, taking in the sight before us: row upon row of pastel- hued, buttercream-frosted, expertly decorated cupcakes. Some had cute little ﬂower appliqués. Others bore a playful smattering of sprinkles. They were beautiful.
“Can I have one?” Bea asked.
“No,” I answered quickly. A mother’s reﬂex, based on any number of ingrained, “good” parenting tenets: setting limits, the avoidance of sugary processed foods, and protecting her appetite for dinner among them.
“Share one?” she ventured.
Well played, Bea. With those words, she had turned a kid’s innocent request into an opportunity for mother/daughter bonding. A chance to connect over our shared love of—obsession with—the indisputably empty calories of cupcakes. Once I was cut in on the deal, I saw the value of the proposition. I grinned at her, and we giddily went inside.
We feasted our eyes on the contents of the display case. Chocolate frosted, red velvet, or classic vanilla? I didn’t even have to ask. Classic vanilla, obviously. Where cupcakes are concerned, Bea and I are invariably on the same page, and vanilla is our shared favorite. I bought one.
I took the cupcake from the woman behind the counter, and handed it down to Bea for the ﬁrst bite. Her big brown eyes widened, and her lips parted in an expectant smile, revealing a prominently missing front tooth. I watched the crumbs collect on her lips as her teeth sank into the thick layer of frosting, and down through the ﬂuffy wall of cake.
My turn: I closed my eyes for a second, savoring the ﬂavor of the delectable treat but more so the exquisite pleasure of spending time with this delightful child. At nearly seven years old, she still thought most of my stupid jokes were funny, and the unselfconscious abandon with which she emitted her hearty laugh made me try all the harder to provoke it. At nearly seven years old, she still generously shared what was on her mind, and I never knew what amazing, hilarious, fascinating thing she might say next. At nearly seven years old, Bea was so easy to please. Why would I begrudge her this simple delight?
If passersby had looked into that cupcake shop window, they would have seen a gleeful little girl enjoying a sweet bite of childhood and a mother happily aglow in the small experience.
If they had children themselves, they might have recognized the kind of ineffable, joyful moment that makes parenting so special.
But our idyll was about to end.