Every morning at breakfast, ever since the day she first started using sentences with a verb, my daughter has told me her dreams. Breakfast is always an egg, cooked to her preference of six-and-one-half minutes. That is, if the egg has been out of the refrigerator long enough. If I forget to take the egg out the night before, I try to gauge the extra twenty seconds it needs to get it just the way she likes.
In spite of all my care, however, perfection is hard to reach. Often she sulks when opening her egg. If the yolk is still fluid, she will push her plate away. If the white is snotty, she turns up her nose — still, she will take a few bites.
If the egg is too hard-boiled, the white too rubbery and the yellow so dry it becomes cakey, she will merely sigh. For my daughter and her morning egg, it is all about taste and texture.
Today she is dressed in an off-white sweater, her new favorite. She looks at me, her eyes dewy with fresh mascara, her hair, still wet, wrapped in a towel.
I sit across from her in my pajamas and watch her slide a knife into the shiny, white egg. She splits it in two, then four, until it crumbles and she can spread it on the toast that I have lightly browned for her.
She savors her first bite, and then she is ready to talk. “Mom, you want to know what you did in my dream last night?”
As with most days, I want to tell her to hold off with her stories. I don’t want to hear them, at least not now, at breakfast. I prefer to start my day on a lighter note. But I don’t. She is my daughter, and I am obliged to listen to what preoccupies her.
My daughter smiles, showing her perfectly aligned teeth, thanks to a year of braces.
“Please tell me, honey,” I say and pour some tea to brace myself. You see, her dreams are always cruel. They invariably portray me as the mother you would not want to have.
“Okay, here it comes,” she says, licking a piece of egg white from her lip. “You did the scariest thing mom. Now listen.” I notice a certain pleasure in her voice. Is it possible my daughter takes pleasure in hurting my feelings? My daughter for whom I get out of bed at 6:30 a.m. to prepare the perfect egg?
“You were making pancakes,” she continues. “You poured milk, added flour, and started to break the eggs. First one, then another one. But you did not stop at two, as you were supposed to do, no, you continued. Another egg, one more, then another. ‘Mom, what are you doing?’ I asked. But you just went on. Ten eggs already, and you were fetching another one from the box.”
She glances up at me to make sure she has my full attention. “When you finally poured the batter in the pan, two of the eggs became little chicks. Yellow feathers, beaks, eyes, and all. They stared at us, mom, still alive. They shrieked! But you simply took up the spatula. ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Stop it! You can’t make pancakes like this.’”
“‘Oh, yes, I can,’” you said, “‘And you will eat them too. Whether the chickens are dead or alive, the pancakes taste the same.’”
There is a look on her face of victory and disbelief at the same time. Bits of yolk fall from her cheek staining her sweater. My heart is racing.
“How is your egg?” I ask.
“Too wet,” she says, pushing her plate away.
“The dream wasn’t as scary as the one where you pushed me off a cliff,” she says. “Really hard, even though I begged you to stop. Remember?”
Of course I do. I have wondered about that dream ever since she told me about it. Does she think I am capable of killing her? She is a good girl most days. She helps me clean up the kitchen, she tells me about her adventures at school: Jennifer fainted in math class, then Dr. Matthews slapped her face several times.
Some evenings we go for a walk. We rest at a creek, where we listen to her favorite songs.
“Am I a good mother to you?” I asked her the other night. “Is there something I should change?”
“No,” she said, as she jumped on the creek’s swinging bridge until it bounced up and down. “This is who you are.” She ran back to me, her golden hair shining in the late sunlight.
“You know you are different than other moms, right?” she said, sitting next to me, still panting. “You are, well, slightly off.”
“What is off about me?” I asked.
“You dress strangely, you sing, you act out. Remember when you started to scream and could not stop? The police arrived, and I told them: ‘Just get that woman out!’”
“That was in one of your dreams, sweetie,” I replied. “That was not real. You know I don’t shout.”
“You do in my dreams,” she said, glancing down at her nails.
I remember when I thought my mother was different than other mothers, and I was ashamed of her. She looked weird, said the strangest things. I made sure she would not meet my friends, to avoid feeling embarrassed.
“You know dreams are not real,” I say, suddenly worrisome. “You know I would never push you off a cliff.”
“Of course not,” she says. “What mother would want to kill her child?”
She looks at her plate, then reaches out for the last bite.
“But those chicks,” she says, her mouth unapologetically full. “That was weird. Dead or alive, they taste the same. You were laughing too. I was terrified.”
“Come,” I say, “let me take you to school.”
I watch her pack her belongings. Her homework in her tall handwriting, her water bottle, the brown bag with the grilled chicken sandwich.
“Mom, hurry,” she says.” I don’t want to be late.”
At the door, I turn to see if we haven’t forgotten something. I look at the leftovers of our morning ritual. A half-empty cup of tea, pieces of eggshell on the table, a crust of toast fallen on the floor. My daughter wraps her hair into a bun, then pulls her sneakers on without untying the laces. We are like the millions of mothers and daughters about to say goodbye to start our separate days.
She suddenly seems to be like any other girl. And yet she is so familiarly mine.
Pia de Jong is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition.
Originally published at medium.com