From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Stranded on an Island

When she was little she clung to me and said, “You’re my best friend in the whole wide world.”

She used to cry when I went away, for a night, for a weekend. “Why can’t you take me?” she would ask.

And I would explain, “Because this party is for grownups. Because this is a business trip. Because you’d be bored.”

“No, I wouldn’t, Mommy. I’d never be bored around you.”

Such absolute, unconditional love.

“Someday you’ll go away and leave me,” I would tell her. “You’ll spend a night at a friend’s, and then maybe a weekend and pretty soon you’ll be going off for weeks at a time and before you know it you’ll be traveling all over the world and then you’ll move to Japan and you won’t miss me at all.”

“I’d never move to Japan without you,” she would say, laughing. The idea of growing up and living in Japan always chased away her tears. It was something said offhandedly to divert sorrow, but it became a tradition. Whenever she would grumble about my leaving, I would tease her about her leaving me to go to Japan.

She’s only fourteen now, and she hasn’t left yet. Not physically, anyway. But mentally she’s prepared to go, though she doesn’t know it and I didn’t know it either until the other day.

She came home from school with a homework assignment: Choose six people, dead or alive, real or fictional, with whom you would choose to be stuck on a deserted island. Her English class had just finished reading Lord of the Flies, a story about a group of stranded children on just such an island.

I never thought for a minute that I wouldn’t make the list. It didn’t cross my mind. Didn’t she say I was her best friend in the whole world? Didn’t she know I would love her and take care of her better than anyone ever could?

And yet that night, when she recited the names of the people she would take, there was no mention of me. There was the fictional Mafatu, a boy from Call It Courage who had survived life on an abandoned island. “He would know what to do,” she said. “I’d take him because he’s been through this before.” And there was Mary Poppins, “because she’s nice and magical and could whisk us to places off the island if we got bored,” she said.

And she chose her brother, Robbie, “because I love him, and he’d know how to make a boat,” and John McLean, her godfather, “because he knows how to fix everything,” and TV character Doogie Howser “because he’s a doctor and young and won’t die soon,” and Anne of Green Gables “because she’s smart and imaginative and funny.”

“But what about me? I can be smart and imaginative and funny, too,” I said.

“Anne of Green Gables is young and can have babies, Mom. She’s more useful.”

I’m old, and I’m not useful. That’s what she was trying to say. I immediately began to sulk.

“You’re not serious, Mom, are you? This isn’t real, you know. I’m not going to live on an island. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Oh, yes you are,” I wanted to say. “You just don’t know it yet.”

I moped around for a while, a little in jest but a little in earnest, too. I understood why she didn’t choose me. It wouldn’t have been a wise choice. What do I know about survival? I consider it a crisis when the electricity goes out during a storm. Her selections were all sensible.

The thing is, I would have chosen her. I wouldn’t have been sensible. I wouldn’t have thought about what each person could contribute. I would have thought only about who I would most like to be with.

“If I could have picked only one person, Mom, I would have picked you,” she reassured me the next day. But that’s only because when she asked me to make her a grilled cheese sandwich, I suggested that Anne of Green Gables make it, and when she said she needed a ride to the mall, I hinted that Mary Poppins should take her.

“You know, Mom, you’re being very immature,” she told me.

I know I am. Very immature. But that’s because our roles have suddenly reversed. The little girl who clung to me and called me her best friend clings no more. Instead I am the one watching her move on and asking, “Why can’t you take me?”

Beverly Beckham

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