From the back seat I hear, " mom, are cats nice?"
"Most are, but you should always ask the owner or approach a pet carefully."
"So some cats are bad?"
"Not necessarily, some just don't want to be petted."
I turn up my music back up.
But again, she pipes up from the backseat, "princesses are nice right?"
"Well, I've never met one but I'd guess most of them are nice."
And it goes on like this for weeks.
"Are grasshoppers nice? Are frogs nice? Is the neighbor's dog nice? Are zombies nice? My American girl doll? Chickens?"
"Yes. Yes. Yes. No. The price isn't. They make nice nuggets."
"What about a tiger?"
"Well, a tiger might try to eat you."
"So it is mean?"
"Not necessarily, it just might be hungry."
Owen growing even more annoyed than I am, looks up from playing plants vs zombies and tries to explain that not everything is mean or nice.
That a tiger is not mean or nice. It is a predator.
She is quiet momentarily.
Owen goes back to his game. I go back to singing to the radio,
"Mom, are predators nice?"
"Tess, do you even know what a predator is?"
"No. Are they nice??"
A long sigh.
Let's save the biology lesson for another day, sometimes tigers are just tigers. Chickens are just chickens. They aren't mean or nice. They just are.
"Ok, so. But Ariel IS nice right? She is my favorite princess."
Yes. I bet she is the nicest Disney princess that ever had a bra made out of sea shells.
She still asks this question. Daily. Once I even gave her a long complicated answer about why cannibals aren't nice, but turns out she said "camel". On the bright side she now has a clear anti-people eating stand. Although she did ask if they ate the brains or if that was just zombies.
This conversation wears me out.
But I see what she is doing.
She needs to be able to classify things. Group them. Label them. Decide what team they are on.
And if she is like the rest of us, it is a skill she will use her entire life.
On everyone she comes in contact with and worst of all, on herself.
But, it is a system I am trying to cloud and complicate and confuse. Even if it makes me occasionally want to pound my head against the steering wheel.
I tell her that these labels she has made don't always work. That they are handy and occasionally necessary, but there is usually more to the story than if something is nice or bad.
That some cats are nice, some are mean, sometimes they just have a bad day.
That a tiger might try to eat you, but that doesn't make it nice or mean. It is just being a tiger.
And of course, that maybe zombies aren't really mean that they are just misunderstood.
Tess, just turned five. She was thrilled with the gifts, the cupcakes, the attention and the party.
But she was reluctant about actually being five.
From the backseat again she tells me that she still wants to be Little Tess.
That she wants all her dresses to fit. That she does not want to be Big Tess. That she wants to play with her Barbies. She wants to be Silly Tess and wear pants on her head not Mommy Tess who has to have babies and get a job.
Whooo. Hold your really nice horses. You turned 5 not 35. First, I'd suggest getting a job, a husband and then having babies but for now...
Don't worry about being Big Tess or Little Tess. Young and Carefree Tess or Tired and exhausted what am I going to make for dinner and when am I going to grade papers mom...I mean Tess.
Try being Just Tess.
Be who you are right now.
I love that girl, mean or nice. Four or five.
Tiered and cranky or sweet and kind.
That I'm sure her dresses will still fit, and thankfully they make dresses in all kinds of sizes.
Lose the adjectives and just be you.
Mom, can Just Tess have a snowcone?
"Sure, I hear snowcones taste even better when you are five."
"Mom, are snowcones nice?"