“You should be careful with your bag,” Jessica says to me. “It’s heavy.”
“I will be, sweetie,” I tell her.
“And don’t poke yourself with that pen.”
“I’ll be careful,” I tell her, tucking the pen in the bag. Not comparing her to a helicopter parent or pointing out that I successfully managed all of these tasks for many many years before she was born.
“What are you going to eat for dinner while I’m at my dad’s house?”
“I have no idea,” I tell her.
“I will make you a menu.”
“Please don’t,” I say, before I can stop myself. Each week, we plan out a menu of dinners, looking in the cookbooks for the meals we will enjoy making and eating, typing the titles of the recipes into the computer, highlighting Monday in purple and Tuesday in blue. Then we make a list of all the things we need to get at the co-op. Then we make the meals from scratch, soaking beans overnight or mixing pasta dough by hand, and frankly it is exhausting.
“If we don’t make a menu, you will eat popcorn and cookies the entire time.”
“Maybe not the entire time,” I tell say. Occasionally I diversify into Pop Tarts.
“Fine,” I say, rolling my eyes like I’m the teenager. “Make the menu.”
So she makes me a menu and carefully puts it on the refrigerator under the magnet with her picture on it.
“I will call you tomorrow,” she says. “I will ask, ‘What are you having for dinner, Jennifer?’” She doesn’t dare call me “mom” when she is feeling this fragile. And I know she feels fragile by how much she is mother-henning me.
I squint at the menu. “And I will say, ‘broccoli stir fry.’”
“You will be all right when I am gone.”
“I’ll miss you, pumpkin pie.” Sometimes she still lets me call her by that nickname. “But I’ll be all right.”
“You won’t cry.”
“I’ll be brave,” I promise her and give her a hug.
“Don’t get any tickets from the police.”
“They’re parking tickets, darlin’.”
She is not convinced. “When I am not here, you eat berry pie for breakfast. And you stay up until two o’clock in the morning.”
“Well, I’m not out carousing,” I feel the need to defend myself. “I’m usually trying to catch up on all my work.”
“And you work too much when I am gone.” She thinks working more than thirty-seven minutes a day is working too much. “There is no one to take care of you when I am not here.”
“I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time, darling girl.”
She nods. “You like taking care of yourself. You do not like to have someone to take care of you.”
“Well, I don’t mind when it’s you.”
“That’s because I am the best assistant. Ever.”
“That you are, girlfriend. That you are.”