In the afternoon
Two fifty three p.m. and from my brief repose on the couch I hear two WHUMPs followed by a CLUNK and a stream of gibberish directed towards a stuffed audience that now lies in a wide arc on the floor around her crib. The owl and the sheep were the first to get the heave ho, and swift on their heels is Baby Suzie, a doll who once held the revered spot of sleep companion, but whose days seem ominously numbered. “Maa-ma, maa-ma.” I am beckoned sweetly, plaintively. A good sign for the afternoon to come – there is relief in my posture. I open her door to find her peering over the side wall of her bed, face already smiling in anticipation of her emancipation. I lift her and we leave to go find a snack and a brother, in that order. She is happy in my arms for these moments, but then it is time to be down, to be free. A girl and her snack need their space, after all.
The pause is nice, and I catch my breath, knowing that from now until evening when I confine her once more to her white slatted fortress it will be a sprint to the finish. On good days I am one step ahead. On bad ones, there is dust in my face. Most days end in a dead heat.
There is a steady flow of corrective language that punctuates our afternoons. Gentle. Not for Rosie. Get down. Be careful. Gentle. Get down. Gentle. No ma’am.
No ledge is too high to attempt scaling, no action too bold to venture, no word too big to sound out. The pantry door, closed too gently, is no match for her wiles and when I find her there, standing atop Noah’s stool, pointing upward to the applesauce, saying OWLSOOS? OWLSOOS? there is nothing left for me to do after an act so brilliantly executed but to go and get her a spoon.
The afternoon wears on, and I wear out. Tears fall, legs thrash, wills clash. I will be so glad one day, I tell myself over and over again, to know that she is a girl who is so sure of what she wants. This will serve her well one day, this tenacity, this persistence. I know this.
Today though, I just wish she could be a little more open to suggestion.
The storms pass as quickly as they come though, and her tears turn to requests for the outdoors. AW-WIGHT? AW-WIGHT. JACK? JACK? AW-WIGHT! So much of what she says is a direct imitation of my own words: every morning when I have finally completed loading myself up like a pack mule for us to leave, the last things I say are “Rosie, let’s get your jacket! Ready to go? All right, let’s go!” Aw-wight. Jack. Aw-wight.
Even more amusing is her parroted self-admonishment as she stands poised to do something she knows she shouldn’t. “No ma’am,” I say firmly. “No maim,” she repeats, head shaking.
But there is a smile in her eyes.
Once outside, the world is her oyster, the lawn her stage. No one who walks the sidewalks in front of our house is a stranger. “Hey!” she calls, flirting. “Hey!” And people stop, smile, wave. “Hi there, rosy cheeks!” they say, not knowing her name. Sometimes she runs over to them, stopping just short of their legs, smiling face cocked to one side to peer up at her new friend. It is the rare person who is not charmed by her effects, and I’m convinced, watching her body twirl from side to side in the sunshine, that there is magic there.
The shadows fall as evening approaches and I chase her down to bring her inside for dinner and bath and bed. I scoop her up and she settles like a puzzle piece into the groove of my hip, a familiar load. “Bye bye,” she says to no one and to everyone. I stand with her for a brief second, giving her one last survey of her realm. In this moment, I love her so completely that it feels like a solid thing, vast and weighty inside my chest. “Are you ready to go eat?” I ask her softly. “Aw-wight,” she answers back. And we turn toward the path that leads us back to our front door.