The Ambassador

8 12 2017
whosebouncer

One sure-fire way to make friends with babies is to steal their toys. Really. If you’re a cat, babies love this.

We called Gustav “The Ambassador” to honor his way of reaching out to everyone. In its original context, the name was a commentary on his diligence in luring our loud but somewhat reluctant feral into making a genuine effort at being a family cat. When we brought wild-thing Beorn in at the chilly beginning of a long winter, in answer to his insistent, pink-mouthed cries at the door, he was so terrorized by the giant hands and clomping feet that he immediately took up residence among the basement’s ceiling-rafters, creating for himself a maze of pathways along the top of the heating vents and a black, impenetrable cave between the wood beams above the foundation — impenetrable to the humans, that is. Gustav, who had been mad at the door to get to the little cat stranded outside in the cold, was no less devoted when we brought him in, and regularly leaped up into the cave to touch noses with and carry person-smells to the wild thing, one little gesture at a time, until our ambassador finally led the shy one up the basement stairs and into the warm light of the kitchen to partake of the magical gifts of meat snacks — a boon so inviting that Beorn’s given name would soon be forgotten by the entire family, who called him what I used to call to let him know a treat was available: “Meat Snack!” But Gustav wasn’t just an ambassador to this one feral cat.

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Supervising Holly’s first visit with tiny Tabitha, and securing himself a little slice of her heart forever in the process.

He planted himself lovingly in the lap of my father, who never cared at all about cats, stretched his head up to skull-bonk my father’s chin, stood up on his chest to nuzzle his face, and made himself a friend. He reached out curiously to Matt’s Maggie when she used to visit; he tried to make friends with but then settled on creating a terrifying and death-defying chase-game with Dad’s dog Betty, who still hasn’t made her mind up about cats, whether they should be friends or food (my dad reports that Gus used to wait in the woods between our houses, hunched down behind a tree, for Betty to come out, and when she’d get almost-but-not-quite close enough to catch him, bolt out and set her bark-and-running). He befriended Crista’s dog Lily with complacent good cheer, because she hasn’t a threatening bone in her fluffy little body. He walked right into the arms, laps, and suitcases of literally every human who ever came to visit this house (or the one before it), whether they were family come to stay a month or acquaintances just dropping off a borrowed object. He was like a one-cat outreach team from the land of Felandia to the rest of the human world, and we simply cannot count high enough to keep track of the number of people who told us, over the course of his big little life, “I don’t really like cats… but I love THAT cat.”

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Playing a little string-bat with baby Evanny, gentle as you like despite those big-clawed paws.

I can count the number of people who reacted with hearts and sad-face emoticons to the news that he was lost to us: 77, many of whom had met him only a few times, or only once, or only even online, where his presence was just as large as the bright contrast of his white, white fur, brightening dark winter days, dark times, dark newsfeeds, and dark nights. Thirty-seven of those people couldn’t let the announcement pass without a comment to record their love and sorrow–and some of his most avid fans, like Holly, above, and my mother, who was always threatening to steal him away, aren’t even current Facebook users. He was also beloved among the children in our lives (all of these still too young for Facebook too) — and as organizers of the neighborhood playgroup and as a family with friend-loving kids, we have lots of children in our lives. When playgroup meet-ups were just herds of toddlers, awkwardly chasing each other in circles around the downstairs of our old house, and Picabo would hide under an upstairs bed, and Meat Snack would hide back in the basement ceiling, Gustav would wander in and out of the playgroup, sniffing little hands, head-butting crawling babies to say hello, and playing hide-and-seek with Finn and Halden and Nathan and Lulu, dashing up the stairs to misdirect their thunder of feet, slinking back down when they weren’t looking, turning up under the babies’ playmat, dashing off through the cat-door to the basement when they chased him next, then coming back again to play hour-long games of fetch with soft toys chucked over the back of the couch.

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Convincing argument that there’s nothing more comfortable than being sandwiched between a stack of books and the heavy skull of an adoring 4-year-old.

He never scratched or bit, not when cornered, not when tackled, not when lain upon, not when Nate would pick him up by the hips, his skinny frame barely bigger than that of the long-limbed cat he hefted, and waddle him awkwardly around the house.  When the kids grew older, and liked to gather at the neighbor’s fire pit, they would do so with a white cat underfoot who liked to keep an eye on things, and who liked to wander into the neighbor’s house to say hello and watch TV with their children; once, we heard, one neighbor awoke from a mid-day nap to find Gus hanging out in his bedroom to keep him company. (“Is that white cat yours? I wondered why he was so friendly.  He let the girls pick him up and carry him around — I always told them not to, but he didn’t seem to care.  He’s a really great cat!”)  When the news got out, the most poignant consolations were from the children: the girls drew pictures of him with condolence notes for me, Evanny spent all the next day at school drawing (earless) blob-footed kindergarten cats, their friend Preston wrote the girls a letter — and hand-delivered it — to show how sad he was to hear the news, and their friend Oscar made us all cry by sending (via his mom’s iPhone) a video of himself singing “You Are My Sunshine” as a way to sadly say goodbye.

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A typical morning juggling baby and cat in the kitchen, when somebody wanted up, and somebody else never wanted down.

I never meant for Gus to even be an indoor-outdoor cat — a designation that eventually, as we all knew it would, became the actual death of him. I signed a promise-form to this effect for the local Cat Coalition when I adopted him, and had every intention of keeping that promise, but one can only promise for oneself, not for the whims of every-creature-else. When I first brought him home, kitten-Gustav was afraid of trucks, and every time the rumble of an engine went by on the street outside, he would hide under the bed; how I wish that sensibility had stayed. Instead, he grew, and as he grew, he got cocky and curious. When Meat Snack wouldn’t stay in the house, but would escape time and time again, Gus started to follow him, and off they would run, leaping into the back yard ravine in a wild, unfettered game of chase that I loathed, every time. If he wasn’t back by nightfall, I would pace out front of and, alternatingly, out behind the house by star and moonlight, in slippers and robes, calling to him like a crazy cat-lady, and eventually (although sometimes I’d have to go in and give up and try again later), every night but two, he came home. (Those two, he was trapped, respectively, in our barn and our neighbor’s, having fallen asleep while exploring and gone unnoticed when someone closed up for the night.) I hated this game, and tried to put an end to it time and again, but he was fast and determined, and even the adults with quick feet for cat-soccer had a hard time keeping him from getting through; for toddlers and small boys bad at remembering to close doors at all, it was an impossible thing to ask.

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What the heck is going on in this car seat?

When we moved, and found ourselves on a bigger road with faster, more frequent trucks, I tried again; Caleb developed quite a skill for chasing after him and catching our sweet cat, who never fought and clawed a child, not once, no matter how badly he might have wished to roam. When we gave up that fight too, we hoped that the acre and a half behind us, and the huge block of yards and houses to explore without needing to cross roads at all, would have been enough. I was afraid he was going to be eaten by the Rottweilers living behind our property or mauled to death by Betty, but I hoped he had the sense to stay away from that damned road, across which there was nothing a cat with a steady food source, a few acres of territory to claim and dispute, and all the love in the world could possibly need. Hope buys nothing, though, and the damn fool would cross the street — at the old house and at this one too — there’s simply no reasoning with cats. I can’t pretend I only hated it, though; there was a charming magic new to me in having a cat come and join me in the back garden (and he did, every time I went out there, appearing out of the woods or wherever he was to come in the gate with me and mill among the tangled rows).

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Minding the baby, like ya do, when you’re a guardian angel.

There was something delightful about watching him run the length of the yard to come when I called to him.  And it was an exquisite mercy not to have to guard the door, but just to be able to leave them open to the summer breezes and the children’s and builders’ and project-makers’ tromping feet without having to worry about where the cat was this time, but I never forgot that those pleasures had a price.  So when the girls and I drove home Monday afternoon and found him in the front yard, we were launched immediately into all of the regret and sorrow our little hearts could hold, but the shock held no surprise. “Stupid, stupid cat,” we’ve all said lovingly, tearfully, over and over, day after day since it happened. “You stupid, stupid beloved wonderful cat.”

Squeeze

Our three small people, ages 5, 2, and 3, respectively, demonstrate Gustav’s tolerance over the years for the small-child-squeeze.

I’ve tried dwelling on mythologies, to make this loss more palatable, but it hasn’t taken a lot of dwelling, really; the part of me that loves a good angel-story had cast him in this part long before we had to wonder at the beginning of this awful week where his heart was needed more. You see, right from the very first, Gustav chose this family: he came to us with determination, despite my intentions at the time, he wrote his own job description, and he took his responsibilities so seriously that he developed some anxiety from trying to do it too well, and had to take a little kitty-Prozac to keep himself at ease. He came when I was fearfully working my way through my second pregnancy, having lost the first so early that I knew nothing about what was to come, but only knew the worry about another failure. He came to warm my sleepless nights and soothe my predictions about the terrors of birth, to prepare the way for a baby, and then another; he came to shore up a worried, lonely, sleep-deprived new mother; he came to soften and sweeten the challenge of learning to nurse a difficult baby with difficult tools; he came to sleep with and cuddle and protect a little boy who was right in the middle of being jolted from having only-child status in two families to having it in none; he came to warm and delight and bring sweet, early pleasure to a tiny, angry baby and then to spread the love around to the next one, when there weren’t always as many empty hands on hand as she’d have liked: “don’t worry, eh,” he seemed to say, curling up beside one tiny body to keep it warm while I tended to the needs of the other, “I’ve got this.” And I was delighted by each of these gifts, but they, too, weren’t really a surprise. Because although they weren’t so obvious to those who weren’t looking very closely, he came with tells: among the scattered black spots his mostly-white Van Pattern body wore, some as small as pen-marks, he had a pair right on his shoulder blades (one was obvious, the size of a quarter, visible to all, but its match a kind of secret, only about six hairs there, easy enough to find when he was tiny, but when his thick adult fur grew in, it took a quest to even find it). And to a girl who grew up watching The Last Unicorn, wherein Amalthea’s human face, when her magic was engaged, bore the star where her horn had been, those spots were obviously the calling-cards of recent wings.

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Want to see that two-handed move again?

Gustav had a French name because the tabby in him peeked through in two places: his grey-and-black striped tail and the top of his head, where his asymmetrical patch seemed to give him a jaunty beret. He had black spots on all four white paws, on his back, on his lip, on his legs, and on the roof of his mouth, but for all intents and purposes, he was a white cat: he was a brilliant glowing light in the twilight, and could be seen in the back woods from inside the upstairs windows. He was a yin-yang opposite to Picabo’s tuxedo-coloring. He was a luminous spot of life in a dark house; the others could disappear in the center of a dark room, but he could not have even tried. We called him Space Ghost sometimes, and we giggled about how he was Sprinkles from Girls With Slingshots — aka Doom-kitty, both in terms of being a dazed idiot and in terms of being an absolute love. And, of course, being long and skinny and white with pink inner ears and a black tail and a dark beret and black spots in random places. Doomkitty Gustav as a baby loved the stuffed tiger Piddy-the-cat used to love, except where Pids would treat the object in Ways of Unspeakable Affection, Gus would hold it and purr and suckle its fur. He would chase many things for one or two throws, but would chase the fleece-ribbon-on-a-stick or a tossed fuzzy pipe-cleaner for one or two hundred. He loved to sleep at the foot of our bed, and Caleb’s, and Tabitha’s, and sometimes Evanny’s; when he was little, he slept in cribs and bassinets to be always near the babies, but he was a cat: he also slept on chairs and couches, in the forsythia bramble in the back yard, in a cardboard box full of old papers in the cold basement, in the dolls’ bunk beds, in a toy box full of stuffed animals, on top of suitcases or stacks of boxed hand-me-downs, on my pillow, on the kids’ mini-couch, in their bed-tent and crawling-tunnel, and sprawled across the heating vent.

baby you can pull my tail

“Baby you can pull my tail… ’cause, Baby, I love you.”

He loved to run up-and-over the kids’ plastic slide, to leap onto Picabo from around corners, to perform acrobatic stunts around the tall, narrow rails of beds and cribs and playpens.  He tail-chased in chairs and on the changing mat and in the middle of the floor, but also in precarious places like the corner of the loft-bed or on top of a dresser he would then fall off of, scattering papers and quarters and neatly-folded clothes awaiting placement in the process.  He killed mice in the house and voles and squirrels outside; he once proudly brought a dead bird into the kitchen. Then, of course, he kissed us with that face. He jumped up on things (the mantle, the hall-table beneath the display shelves, dressers and high shelves everywhere) and broke things (a camera lens, the beanbag chairs, and Matt brought that glass home safely in a suitcase all the way from Barcelona) and played the piano — both the kids’ electric toy one and the real one, often in the middle of the night.

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Working on his ornament-chewing skills while a very little Caleb practices some kindergarten workbook exercises.

He was a vocalizer, always with a chirp or miaow to announce his presence and/or comment on the world; when he was small, I used to call him “Peru” for the sound that he would make every time he came to greet me — and since he’d follow me around the house, and wander out of rooms, and then say hi again when he’d wander right back in, there were a lot of greetings. But ambassadors are greeters, and although the habit got quieter, it never dimmed: as a foolish outdoor cat, he would follow me around on frosty mornings when I dragged the trash — two cans — and the recycling — sometimes four bins’ worth — out to the road, waiting in the driveway and running up for a pet, tail high, on repeat, just as eager each time I came around the corner to grab another load.

Catnaps

Watching over the sleep of and falling asleep with, near, and under the sleeping bodies of our daughters (the boy’s bed is much harder to photograph such scenes in, but they happened there too).

As the children’s protector, Gus was simply unimaginable: no one could have predicted or invented the investment and devotion of this cat.  We say, like it’s a family joke, although it is 100% completely true, that Gustav safety-tested every piece of baby gear to ever enter this house before any babies ever used it.  I have (more) pictures: he napped in the cribs, the bassinet Evanny used, the pack-n-play, and later the rock-n-play sleeper and co-sleeper Tabitha slept in.  He rode in the stroller to test it out when we first picked it up at a neighbor’s yard-sale: there’s video of my mother pushing it around the house with him gamely along for the journey.  He swung in the baby-swing.  He bounced in the bouncer.  He lounged in the fabric-sling bathtub.  He slept and played both on and under the play mat.  He climbed into car seats — and once he started ranging outdoors, would climb into the car to give everything there a careful consideration too.  And he didn’t stop once the babies came; he slept with them, always conscientious about giving them enough room to move, always attentive to their wakings and wiggles, and he oversaw the nursing process, especially with Evanny, like the most diligent lactation consultant on Earth, watching me pump at 4 in the morning, lying in the bed with his furry head against her bald one while she suckled, or lying across my neck while I held her to the breast, a double-decker armful of warm, small bodies on mine.  But it wasn’t just the babies: he climbed the ladder up to Caleb’s loft at least once a day to make sure everything was ship-shape, and on nights when Caleb was sleeping here, would bound up into the bed after him and do a round of tiptoeing all the way around the railing, all four corners of the rectangle, before settling in for a snuggle, a foot-warming curl of sleep, or a sequence of both in turn.  When we installed a play set a month or two ago, and broke the ladder before we could put it together, he taught himself to climb the climbing-wall hand-holds so he could safety-test the tower and pace the railings up there too.  He was never content with the babies’ doors being closed for sleeping; we had to leave a crack so he could push them open and include their spaces in his nightly patrols.  When Caleb was small enough to be afraid of monsters, Gus would lie with him every bedtime, and only jump down the ladder to go check on everybody else after he fell asleep.  When we moved here, and the girls moved into their shared room at the top of the stairs, he would come in every night when I was putting them to bed, check the closet for monsters, lie on the floor for a while listening to storytime, and then go out again to continue his rounds; if he wasn’t at the foot of the bed when I’d get up in the middle of the night, I’d often find him in the dead-center of the hallway, lying on the floor at the top of the stairs where he’d be the first to intercept anything that might try to reach the family.  He was likely to do this a couple times a week in general, but if Matt wasn’t home, he’d be at his post each night without exception.

thecutest

This guy loved him too. (That trailing kitten-foot, y’all.)

Gustav was the kids’ guardian and playmate, the family clown, and an equal source for Matt of charm and exasperation, because the breaking-of-things, the minute but recurring bother of popping a pill down his throat every night, the peeing-on-stuff when he wasn’t medicated, the worrying me every night by needing to be called and coaxed and sometimes dragged back into the house, the waking of babies, the demand of complicated air-lock house maneuvers to get away on trips without him ending up trapped outside instead of in, but Gus had no qualms about loving Matt, offering up bellies for rubs, nose-touches whenever, and the occasional post-shower beard-drying service.  He was Picabo’s annoying little brother, the one she was supposed to like better when he got older, but five wasn’t old enough to be old yet; he played chase with her, entertained her, inspired her off her dense bottom to run around, and earned more than his share of dark glares pretty much daily.  I saw them sleep close enough to touch each other without reaching paws out (which she would have never done) exactly once, only a month or so ago.  Perhaps they were on their way, and perhaps it was an accident; this we’ll never know.  But more than he was everybody else’s everything, Gustav was my “babbers,” the Bristolian-for-baby nickname Matt gave him when he first came home, a scrawny slip of a kitten who liked to nap in an empty birdcage and would perch in my lap-desk’s cup holder like a cup.  (This was both a private truth and a wildly public one; I would whisper “och, me babbers” at him in the stupidest fake accent ever, when he was tucked up in his trademark spot beside me, but also use that name when yelling down the street, so the neighbors all heard me shout it at least as often as “Gus-Gus!” (which rhymes with couscous) “Where are you? Gooooooose? Doo-doff.  BABBERS!”)

bathtub games

Bath tub. Toothbrushes. Toddlers. Playmates.

Gustav, my sweet, pig-headed, road-crossing babby-cat did what I thought would be impossible when I met him: he moved into the little cat-shaped space in my heart that Pids had vacated, the closer-in one that Picabo never really wanted, the one that shares storage space with pursed, milk-sweet baby-lips, the smell of my grandmother’s perfume, the stuffed faux-velour dog I had when I was an infant (and rubbed all the fur off of before I was four), Christmas jazz in my mother’s house, & the warm weight of a trusting, sleeping head lolled against my shoulder.  That space.  He started by push-pulling his way in through my skin and hair, as a kitten, kneading my flesh with his long arms outstretched, purring loudly enough to catch his rhythm on video — I know because I made Matt record him doing it, so that since I wasn’t allowed to take my cat to the birth center with me, a rule I felt was quite unjust, I could still bring at least his purr, the most relaxing music I know in the world.

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A little under-the-tree Christmas swordplay was never amiss.

Five years later, he didn’t always come up for a nightly cuddle anymore, only usually, and he didn’t always stay for one if I went to fetch him, only almost-always, but when he did, every time, it went just this way: I would invite him up onto the bed with tapping or scratching fingers, the universal air-kiss of cat-luring, or simply plopping him there after extracting him from some or another nest or window-sill.  I would get under the covers and lie on my side, making a space for him beside me, open armed.  In cold months, I would hold the covers open to offer a den.  He would walk up, sniff the offering, stalk past it as if ignoring me, turn around on the nightstand or on my pillow, mill his way down to the end of the bed or across the dresser and back, and then he would lie down.  In lying down, he would face me, his back feet curled to tumble between his chest and mine, then scooch around until his top was lined up just the way he wanted it: with his head pressed against my chin, tucked up against my neck just so, and his long arms stretched out to either side of my neck in an adorable, gigantic, claw-carved hug, where he would proceed to close his eyes, purring loudly, and relax into a cat-shaped puddle of softness.  Most times, he would get up and head for the foot-sleeping space after a little while, preferring to do his deepest sleeping without somebody messing with him, but sometimes we would both fall asleep like that, and I’d wake to him moving hours later — or wake hours later to some sound made by a child to find him still in place.

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Baby touch: it went both ways.

All cats are have a little something one-in-a-million about them, but he was a one-in-a-cat-million cat, a character the likes of which I doubt I’ll ever meet again, and it’s really, really hard to stop looking for him every time I walk into a room, or past a back-yard window, to a car, or in or out through the back door (which happens about 100 times today): I keep expecting to see him looking up sleepy-eyed from a nap in some uncomfortable-looking place, coming cheerily up the path from the woods, eyeing the driveway from atop the stump in the neighbor’s yard, slinking out with a long stretch from his favourite outdoor snooze-spot under the dining room window.  IMG_6309I wander the house at night trying not to look for him, pretending the white blur of a pillow in the office-chair is his curled-up form so I can fool myself to sleep.  I don’t even want to go into the back yard, because the last time I took myself down for a quiet swing, he came with me, tried to walk out along the top of the swing-set to peer down at me like the proverbial ceiling-cat, and fell off, because he was also a clumsy idiot.  Every squirrel-sound in the leaves, every wind-tossed plastic bag caught in a branch, rain-bleached face of cardboard mulching the back garden, or scrap of paper demands a rebuke: he’s not there, and he’s not going to be.  Every time I pull a car up to the stop across the street — and all the school trips make this a near-constant activity, one I’ve done already thirteen times in the four days since we found his body — I find myself looking at the spot where he was lying, wishing to see time running backwards, wishing he were there, all tail-up from a scamper, to be scolded one last time about that f*$%ing street.

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Ambassador Gustav would like to recommend the lights: a rare delicacy, especially when nibbled still warm.

We’ll be having new, only, always indoor (if I have to keep them in cages, for Pete’s sake) kittens for Christmas.  There’s no choice, really; Gustav loved Christmas.  He loved to sleep beneath the warm lights, nestled in the felt of the tree-skirt between packages under the tree.  He loved chasing ornaments, batting at the little dangles, making the chimes on the bottom branches ring (I’ve hardly heard them this year; Picabo doesn’t care about the tree until the packages come out, as her chosen holiday vice is eating bows).  And like me, he liked to just look at the decorations; in a dark room bathed in tree-light, I would find him doing what I liked to do: sitting just quietly, watching things glow.  I don’t want to do it without him.  I don’t want to do anything without him.  Like giving birth, the hardest part about all of the traveling we’ve done these past five years was always leaving him behind.  I hate him left behind.  Somebody has to trash this tree and learn to crash along piano keys at 3am, dammit.  But I harbor no illusions about this: we’re having kittens because they’re a distraction, and because this is a house that’s happiest with cats, and Picabo alone just isn’t cat enough. (In the six hours I’ve spent writing this, I’ve only seen her twice.  She wandered in once, looked at me, perched on the back of the chair across the room to look out the window hoping for somebody else, and left again.  She walked by another time, watched me from the other room for a couple of minutes, and silently vanished.)

goodnight cat

On my nights of best-sleeping, this would be the last sight I’d see. I just never thought the last time would come so soon.

We’re having kittens because chaos keeps one busy, and busy people don’t have time to cry (again) about spilled milk and lost loves.  We’re having kittens because silence is lonely.  But we’re not having kittens to try to take any-kitty’s place, because for a cat like Gustav: his place was so high up in the stars that any aspiring replacement would have to start the quest by learning how to fly.

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And we’ll be jolly friends

24 11 2017
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As an example of what I’m saying below, this picture, which is not staged in any way. They’re playing school; one doll is a teacher giving the other a lesson, but they’re trying to settle what kind of lesson. Teacher-Tab suggests flower arranging; student-Ev says that, by kindergarten, she should be doing something more challenging.

“Run,” yells the elder, pink-clad in some school dress she wasn’t wearing when I saw her last, as they scamper down the stairs together deeply embroiled in some imaginary adventure (it’s 7:40 in the morning, but we’re already on at least our third outfit and have already eaten both fruit and pie).  “No,” says the smaller, scrunching her tiny face into a snarl.  “Fight!”   They turn as one to face an invisible foe.  Ev steps forward into a lunge, throws a straight arm forward, and hollers “Blast!”  Her sister capers up to her heels, then grabs her arm.  Some confusion ensues about the hem of Tab’s dress, and then they’re off again, back upstairs to the other setting in their re-envisioned house geography.

It’s growing all the time, this dance of theirs.  This morning, it’s full of synchronicity, complement, harmony.  Two little voices chanting in sweet, perfect unison: “paper, rock, scissors, shoe!”  Two little voices weaving in and out of one another’s, trying to re-remember Moana’s memorized introduction to Maui, which last summer they could have done in their sleep, but it’s winter now, and the sea seems far away.  Two singers at different pitches chanting the lines of “Say Say O Playmate” and flapping their hands ineffectually at each other, since no child of mine (the ten-year-old included) has ever mastered even Patty-cake, let alone a more complicated slap-rhyme.

Right now, they’re helping each other arrange their hair with stretchy headbands to try to achieve some effect seen in a show; in the time it’s taken to type these paragraphs, they’ve already shed the pink dresses and are in white tank-tops and leggings, the same white tank tops I found scattered all over their room last night when I went to get them ready for bed, trying to maneuver around the plastic Christmas tree they’ve already set up in their doorway and decorated with loose beads and pom-poms that will be all over the house by the end of today.  It’s November 24th.  Breakfast was leftover pie, and the chocolate layer might have something to do with how merry and manic this game is, or maybe not, as it’s not that different from most other days.

There are, of course, oil-and-water moments of screeching disharmony, and sometimes those “moments” seem to last all day, Ev roaring “TABBA!” in booming fury when her sister dares to bump her elbow, Tab bursting into tears and fleeing the scene because Ev has put on a necklace she likes to wear herself, both of them kicking each other happily one minute and screaming about never playing with the other again the next.  Now, they’re yelling “hoy-ya!” over and over and leaping around in the foyer, where there seems to be some kind of imaginary-rules karate-derivative-sportsball going on: “No, no, we won, we got one point,” Ev just cried up the stairs, to a Tab who was about to retreat on account of feeling slighted by something.  “Chaa-la!” Tab  just shouted herself, getting back into the game, and then the scamper-rush on the stairs yet again, and they’re gone.

This afternoon, we’ll read another chapter book together, snuggled together on the couch (they’re currently absorbed in Daisy Meadows’ Rainbow Fairies), after which they’ll run off to play that, instead, although they’ll probably have a stall at the start while they squabble over who wears which wings.  They’ll be back in another few minutes for second breakfast.  At some point today there will be a fight about practicing piano (Evanny vs. one or both parents) and a fight about choosing a TV show (Evanny vs. Tabitha); over the dishwasher, I can hear somebody keening now, and it’s almost undoubtedly Tab, and she’ll almost certainly be over it before I see her next, although there’s always the chance she’ll be upset enough to run all the way down here, bump me woefully and say “Mama,” whinge through an explanation of how she was wronged, run out of steam before she’s all the way finished, and take off up the stairs again yelling “Sissy!” with renewed enthusiasm. At some point today, there will probably also be a tea party.

“Sissy” might be Tab’s favourite word (that or “coyote”): this morning Ev wedged herself into the bed between Matt and I quietly but forcefully while Tab was a rabid wolverine of cover-kicking on my other side, screaming at me and the blankets and the universe until her father fled the room, disgruntled as usual about the fact that our usual alarm clock is a rabid wolverine.  Once this ousting was accomplished and they had enough room to thrash about the whole queen with only me in the middle, I was almost instantly eclipsed for each one by the other.  “Sissy!” the little one cried, launching herself onto her sister like a whole-body face-hugger, and they giggled and rolled and choked on inhalations of each others’ hair.  When the smaller bonked an ear on her sister’s elbow (or something–they were a blur and it was dark, so I have no idea what was actually bonked on what) and set up a repetitive “AENH, aenh, aenh” sort of wailing, the elder one leapt back in time a day or three to a dinner interaction that had somehow wound up being a game of Tab making that same noise and Ev repeating, in response, the phrase she dragged out this morning, thirty times if it was said three: “Don’t cry about broccoli!”  “Aenh!” “Don’t cry about brocolli!” “Aenh(giggle)!” “Don’t(giggle) cry about(giggle) broccoli!” And thus, voila, they have inside jokes.  Giggle-inducing insider references to their own illogical sources of giggling.  And thus, voila, a magical transformation has taken place.  They aren’t just sisters now, you see, these little people who were not-so-long-ago tiny pink creatures without word or thought or memory.  They became family at birth, the first mine and her father’s and brother’s, the second both ours and each others’, but they’re not just family anymore.

They’re friends.





The Great Pumpkin lesson

30 10 2017

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This morning, my Montessori-daughters, after entertaining themselves deliriously making video recordings with me of themselves fumbling a slap-rhyme and giggling about it, spent a good twenty minutes completely occupied with the task of washing the paint off a painted pumpkin. This is their schooling in action: Montessori believed that children are happiest doing real tasks instead of pretend ones, and their classrooms have small sinks, rags, and soap ever at the ready. They wash their snack dishes, help younger kids wash snack dishes, and wash any other thing they can get their hands on. Sometimes they spend all morning dirtying a thing and washing it again (which is why Tabitha rarely comes home in the clothes I sent her in: for other three-year-olds, this is commonly a sign of peed outfits, but we’ve had only one of those. Her plastic-bagged clothes boast sticky soap-swirls and sleeves soaked to the shoulder).

It’s also part of a larger story about social learning and friendship for Evanny, though. The pumpkin in question was a “gift” from an old schoolmate, her friend Preston (now in first grade somewhere else, as last year he joined the rock-star cast of “graduated” playmates). (Really, it was a gift from his mother; Preston was tired at the end of the play date when it was acquired and had a little trouble letting go, but he managed to rise to the occasion.). Evanny was charmed enough by the gourd that it had to go to school for show and tell–a pumpkin! During pumpkin season! From Preston! (It was apparently very popular.) And then a few days later, at another play date, her dear friend Nathan, who is quick to catch fire with inspiration, reluctant to ever let a good idea go, and very firm in purpose once he picks a path, announced that they should paint it.

Evanny and Nathan have a complicated relationship. He’s her first love from babyhood, and used to adore her unconditionally in turn. But he’s a year and a half her senior, has an older brother to shadow, has mostly boy friends now, and is particularly taken with Evanny’s brother, so if the bigger boys are available, he doesn’t have much time for her these days. When they aren’t, however, these two are still a happy little house-on-fire of inventing and making, doing and playing, and she treasures those opportunities. She knows they’re a little fragile, though. Which is why, after saying “no” a few times, because the Preston-pumpkin was precious to her, she yielded to please him: because shared projects with Nathan are also precious to her. I could see the reluctance on her face give way to regret as she helped him decorate the pumpkin with craft paint, but I didn’t interfere. There are some lessons in life you simply can’t learn from your mother.

After Nathan had gone home, and Daddy had complemented her on their painting job, and said quietly to me, “Mom, I didn’t want that pumpkin painted.” “I know, baby doll. But did you have fun painting it with Nathan?” “Yeah,” she said. “Kind of.” “If you want,” I told her, “that paint is pretty washable. I’ll bet we could clean it off. Would you like that?” “I think so,” she said, “but not right now,” and off she ran to play. That conversation was a week ago; I hadn’t heard a peep about the pumpkin since. But clearly, it was still in her mind, turning and steeping, and today she made her call.

Ultimately, I’d call it a win for all. She still has the gift-gourd, she got to do the activity with her friend, and she got to share a fun washing-task with her sister. But she also got a hands-on chance to wrestle with peer pressure, and with it a small-scale version of the bad feelings that accompany giving in to something you don’t want to do just to please somebody else. Now if only, if only there were a way to be sure she would carry it with her, like a little emotional flu-shot against too-quick acquiescence to actual bad ideas she will certainly be tempted toward in the future.





Thre(e)shold

20 09 2017
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This smile, we find ourselves believing a little more strongly every day, can (and probably someday will) carry this child through anything.

It’s been a busy, busy couple of tough transition-weeks for this little person who just turned three a few short weeks ago. First, last week, her sister started back to school–Kindergarten this time, which for her wasn’t really anything at all (Primary school in the Montessori model is a 3-year cycle, and since she’d already started a few-days-a-week full-day practice-run last Spring, it was all just going back to doing what she’s been doing for years already: the weeks a little longer, the tasks a little more challenging, the playground opportunities more frequent and reliable, but the place and tools and tasks and people to share them with are all familiar), but for Tab meant, suddenly, every day being sisterless for long, long hours: the span of 8:15 – 2:45 is a long, long time when you’re still small, and it’s even longer when you have to count those hours, minute-by-minute, for seven school days before your own turn comes to start attending!

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Out for a walk with me around Barry Park, my little observer finds a mushroom city, some bright-colored leaves, a mushroom blooming like a feathery flower, and the feathered seed-parachutes of a real one.

There were definitely moments for both of us when those minutes drug, but I tried to keep our spirits up, to overlook how far behind I was slipping with my work commitments and stay present with her, without dwelling on but of course while intensely aware of how her busy anticipatory transition week was my last week at home full day with a small child: already having moved past babies and toddlers, I found myself here all of a sudden, filling the last long days with this preschooler whose name was already on somebody’s roster, printed on folders and cubbies, waiting for her to make herself at home in her own little tree-named “cottage” classroom (Tabitha’s is Oak, where the pale blue paint on the classroom’s walls will soon be bringing her one clear wish to life: when asked which class she hoped to join, with no data of any kind to work with, her heart-felt, identity-defining answer was the same each time. “The blue one!”).  We went outside a lot–the weather being miraculous, a summer revival all week long after a cold snap at the end of August that turned out to have been a total lie.  We read a lot.  We explored a new library.  And I followed a lot of little whims, even though that might not have been the best preparation for her to take on the social responsibility of having to join a classroom community and live in ways that work for everyone, not just herself, just because I could: because, mercifully, I noticed in time that this time was a gift.

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Sunflower morning: reading picture-books on the front step in the sunshine with the company of our favourite cat, while the nodding row of heavy blooms bent toward the ground in anticipation of the coming winter, and the last to bloom argued for the beauty of the liminal, half bud and half already sunburst.

The youngest occupies a weird place with regard to the family’s allotment of time: for years already, and for years to come, because she’s the baby, she gets the biggest portion of Mum-attention, at everyone else’s expense, but that expense adds up.  The Mum-attention the baby gets is almost always tinged with frustration, because whatever Mum is doing for her, it’s detracting from something someone else wants, forestalling somebody else’s wants that Mum would also love to fill: the baby wins the contest, time and time again, so it’s easy to see how and why (and to be frustrated by how) the baby is always spoiled, but at the same time, the baby has never known what the firstborn (and this family has two of them) knew: a time when there was no contest, when Mum-attention was a singular recipient and a singular source, when there was no fight to win it because there was no one to win it from.  Tab has been lucky enough to have gulps and swallows of this kind of time all along, with her siblings being old enough to be ahead in the track of playschool or “real” school to bless her with those private, baby-at-home spaces, but it’s almost over now:

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Sassy miss is determined to become a ladybug, with no regard for my logical explanation that this sort of wing requires the velcro dress; they won’t stick to her naked skin, and she’s not wearing dresses, so it’s try and struggle, hide and fluff her skirt, insist and try again, and then finally throw up hands and decide to be something else instead. Life lessons, kid. Sometimes Mummy does know.

afternoons are busy, and school breaks are school breaks for everyone.  So for this week, I did a lot of following and wallowing, not the weepy kind: the happy-pig wallow in the juicy, wonderful mud, the rolling-around in my littlest’s time and attention and the letting her roll around in mine, while we had the precious chance to do it.

Tabitha at three is my threshold: she’s the last one at the door, the last stop for the blowing straw of time and opportunity for my own work and interests, but the last warm softening of the hearth floor, too.  My littlest, my last one, embarking, changes my landscape in ways I know I can’t yet really even predict.  When I imagine what happens next, I think of it as things changing “back,” but of course they won’t: I’m somebody totally different than I was before I became their mother, all three of these little people, and part-time parenting the lot of them, now that they’re taking on daily away-schedules and obligations of their own, won’t, either, be like going “back” to part-time parenting just the first one, so my threshold challenge is really just to keep my eyes and heart open to how these changes bloom and what they offer.  For her, though: it’s just one path, leading in one direction (forth and ever onward!), but she’s got no comparisons to hold it to.  Walking forward could be like anything.  Siblings to follow offer glimpses but not promises.  So there’s a lot to face, a lot to wonder, a lot to process (screams and tantrums and all), and a big, big world to make room for inside that quick-snap Venus flytrap of a mind.

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Exploring the new DeWitt library, Tabitha enjoys a day of reveling in my total attention while doing all of the toddler things that Montessori school is *not* about: playing with trains, listening to a story about talking animals, building with Duplo blocks, making pretend food in the play-kitchen, being (and giving) a puppet-show, and pouting sleepily in Mummy’s arms.

So who’s this little wild thing going to be? It’s anybody’s guess, and most of all Tabitha’s. She is, to date: an adoring sister, loving daughter, fangirl full of squee for Daddy, loving granddaughter, and curious, just-beginning-to-bloom friend. She’s our first kid to really embrace the tricycle and go riding on her own because she wants to, and this says a lot about her: “on her own because she wants to” may be standard in many ways for three, but it’s a Tabitha description in ways in never was for the other two: Caleb lived and still mostly lives to please, and Evanny balances extrinsic and intrinsic “whys” better than the balance beam, which she rarely falls off of already. Tabitha’s soundtrack is entirely her own, and if whatever thrills her takes her wholly, whatever thwarts her inflames her entire world, so a chunk of that soundtrack is very, very loud. She gets this from me, of course, so while I don’t admire it, per se, it’s hard to genuinely complain, even when my ears are ringing. I don’t encourage it, of course, but I empathize, and I’m on my own daily balance beam, trying to keep empathy from coming off as complicity. It’s a tricky age, three.

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Outside the library, stretching those butterfly wings balancing on a rock wall, finding rainbows in the ornamental grass, then jumping the barricades and heading into the meadow, only to bring back handfuls of flowers for me.

Parts soar-so-high and parts cry on the floor, three is big enough to start thinking, and understanding other people’s thinking, in ways that really let them seem real to adults for the first time: three-year-olds aren’t just cute little creatures, they’re cute-but-challenging humans, and in their humanness we see our own challenges, and cringe at what they say about us in their turn. It happened with all of these siblings, but with Tab I think it’s going to be the deepest, richest sting: while her brother and her sister both share parts of me that I love and some I’m not always proud of, and both walk some rocky paths I know too well, Tabitha’s whole self is a lot, lot, lot like me. It’s going to be an uphill challenge to help her try to make more of her lot than I did for far too much of my youth, preferring to despair and gripe about it instead; if (or, surely, when) I get it wrong, it’s going to spear me through the heart to watch her scrape that sweet little face along the floor. But if we can get it right, o little heart of mine, how high I just might see you fly.





Sometimes the downy birds stir

11 09 2017

Rapid-fire grading of students’ discussion fora (I give them full credit if they do enough writing and it has anything to do with the topic at hand, so a close read isn’t necessary here) always tosses ideas around: little wind-storms of other people’s associations that I try to be responsible about ignoring, because the clock is always ticking, but it doesn’t always work.  Sometimes–at least three or four times per assignment–I don’t even know I’m doing it until, yikes, I have a Google window open and I’m investigating some claim, learning whether an oddly spelled word is really a word (it’s usually a medical term used metaphorically by a nursing major), or looking up a concept I recognize but I’m suddenly sure I don’t know enough about.  This morning, I skipped over to one window to fact-check a student’s claim about the differences in time-spent-talking by men vs. women, found a useful article, linked it to her, graded a few more responses, and was derailed by another woman’s description of how she had a teacher once who was startlingly critical of her “purple prose” and red-marked her papers into poppy fields.  I knew the term (a teen in the early 90s, I think I first researched it in response to that EMF song “Unbelievable”), but I wanted to see what the actual criticism was, what the tipping point was (considered to be) between prose being beautifully descriptive and pointlessly purple.  Of course there isn’t one; like all things artistic, prosody is subjective in its ability to please or aggravate its readers.  But I found the origin story (the clock is still ticking, so I might add it later, but I still have an awful lot of forum responses to read in the next 20 minutes!) and, as I poked around, stumbled into a brief writing-lesson blog post whose writer challenged her readers to write the purplest, prosiest, nothing-happening-est follow-up to “it was a dark and stormy night” that they could manage.  Someone took her up on it, dripping velvet-rich description of a carriage ride with no clear destination over a good two or three pages worth of screen-space, and then a chorus of other writers spoke up to talk about how pretty it was and how much fun to read, even if it didn’t go anywhere, and even if it was an illustration of what not to do, and I stopped skimming, just for a moment, and closed my eyes, and breathed.

“This,” I thought.  I’ve missed this.  Writing for the sake of writing.  Reading/ listening to people talking about writing–not about what’s wrong with their semicolons and whether or not they’re writing a you-centered message that will effectively motivate the audience to whom they’re trying to sell something, but about writing for art, for story, for soul.

I love my family.  I am infinitely grateful for my job.  But I really, really miss that sense of quiet that comes from being able to reflect until the right words come, reflect on others’ words, share words about words, and find those little places of magic that lift you with their transparent tiny wings, wings so small you’ll miss them if you can’t seek out the quiet and just listen, breathe, jot a word or two down, and read.





Blink and (perigee four)

10 09 2017

“And you miss it,” they say, where “it” equals absolutely everything small children do and look like and sound like and sleep like and make you think of and are; it consumes you, and then you blink, and it’s over, and you’re old, and you’re sure it was sweet in addition to exhausting, but you can’t really remember.  Evanny is going to be 5 in two weeks, and two posts down I was writing about her being about to turn 4.  Tabitha has already turned 3; two posts down her sister was still 3, and she was only hovering around the flip to two.  They’re back at perigee, three-and-four, sharing almost as many clothes as they have to differentiate on, forgetting within days whose new toys were meant to be whose, playing and talking together all the time about everything, so far up each others’ grills that it’s no wonder every day is a fast-turning tide of “I love you so much!” (that rich, wet sand ripe for footprints and stick-art and possibility) and “I don’t want to play with you EVER AGAIN!” (the flood, the salt-water-up-the-sinuses inundation of too much, too much, too much).

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Little explorers check out a floating dock, a computer game at a local library, a play-store stocked with plastic “tins,” and the concept of the duet.

Although it didn’t technically start until Tab’s birthday 5 weeks ago, it’s been a perigee summer: the girls, who are referred to as “the girls” as often as by name these days (there are so few occasions anymore when anyone needs or wants to be identified as “the baby”), in addition to doing absolutely everything together at home and on our few small jaunts, shared a class for swim lessons, shared another for gymnastics, and attended a week-long “Princess dance camp” together; next week marks the start of the fall season of Soccer Shots, and this time Tabitha is old enough to join Evanny’s class so they can share that too.  (And yes, dear lord, this is what my life has come to, already: two small girls means a playroom floor littered with dress-up clothes, a bedroom littered with considered-and-rejected outfits, toy-bins full of miniature plastic animals and sparkly miniature combs and hair clips, flip-flop wars, My Little Pony curls snarled into everything, puff-stickers on the floor, foil stickers on the wallpaper, nail polish on the deck, and Princess Dance Camp.)  They have similar roughness-levels of splash-pool play and similar attention spans for zoo visits and museums.  Tab can hold her own as a hanger-on at Evanny’s playdates.  They have similar needs for traveling and similar tendencies to fall asleep in the car.  They have similar coloring skills and interests–Evanny’s ability stretches further, but Tab has the perseverance not to mind. They swap tricycles even though neither one of them can reach the pedals very well; they swap nightgowns and tell me I’m putting them away in the wrong drawer no matter where I put them.  They’re both perfecting their written alphabets (and they both have a ways yet to go). They’re starting, just starting, to have a little trouble folding into the bath together–they love the camaraderie, and the small-toy adventures, and the tidal-wave swimming, but the colt-legs are coming, and all those knees. (This progress, fortunately, is not yet too-too far along; last week they and their basically-almost-cousin Darcy still fit just fine as a criss-cross set of three, de-mudding after a rainy day hike with her family.)

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Baking together at Lola’s house, sharing secrets and penny-wishes at a mall fountain, snuggling in princess dresses in the morning bed, and giggling together in the deck-build doorway.

It’s shaping up to be a perigee year, really.  In all the little ways, they’re very much together lately–they fight over my lap, and then when I move, they fight over how to puppy-pile on each other.  They like and request the same picture books.  They like most of the same foods (Tabitha has recently won Evanny over to the ranch side, which opens up all sorts of possibilities, like eating lettuce). They play with the same toys and embrace the same fandoms and shift easily from one to another, following each others’ whims, mermaids and Star Wars and princesses and dragons, sometimes all within the space of an hour (and at least nine outfits), and the coinciding is lining up nicely with scheduling out-in-the-world activities for the school year: in addition to soccer, when we do the next round of swim lessons, they’ll still be at the same level, and while Ev has bumped up a level in gymnastics, barely, it’s really more like a half-step.  They still have class at the same time and both get their little hands stamped at the end of every session.  Most importantly, though, most-likely-to-be-life-changingly: this will be their one shared year in Montessori school, climbing out of the car together at drop-off every morning, off to Maple cottage, where Evanny will be finishing up her primary circuit, and Oak cottage, where Tab will be starting hers.  They’re both deliriously excited about this, of course, but they aren’t the only ones whose lives are about to change.

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Who follows whom? (The answer always changes) Down the creek, up a tree, across the water wearing practice-wings, and across the new deck to taunt Papa and his promised belly-button tickles!

For the first time since Evanny was an infant, I’m going to try to accomplish my part-time teaching job without hiring a sitter this year, because I’ll have a couple of hours every morning when both girls will be at school and I can work.  Both: their perigee brings them so close together this time that they’re doing the same thing at the same time every day, not just for a weeknight sport or a week-long morning day-camp.  It’s a little change–three consistent hours of morning time to allocate responsibly by my own choice–and so common, and so easy to get caught up in the relief of: this is going to save us money!  And I’ll be able to type with two hands!  And the same time!  And maybe even hold a train of thought for more than two consecutive sentences!  My students will be meeting a whole new me!  But it’s also something much bigger: even as there’s a concentration of their togetherness this year, this same indicator is the start of the slide.  Half-day now, full-day soon enough, after-school activities, sports and parties and school plays–the hours they spend where I’m not are going to start to add up this year, and they will never subtract again. We three will never spend more time together than we did last year, when Ev was still in half-day and Tab only at Katy’s 2 mornings a week.  And then we’ll never spend as much time together again as we will this year, when I still have one in only-half and even the long-day girl comes out tired and smiling by 2:45.

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Enjoying the end of the perigee summer with puzzle games, a giant swing, melty, crumbly lakeside s’mores, and a deck-rail water-spitting contest.

And most significantly, most gather-yourself-in-advance-for-the-heartbreakingly, these social growth-spurts mean that even as they spend this year in concord in so many ways, they’ll never spend as much time together as they did before, when their activities were more like one kid in and one toddler playing catch-up: different classes at school means they’re spending their time in different cottages, establishing different friend-circles (and new school-friends will mandate that the guest-list for their birthday parties are unlikely to ever coincide again, already.  Already.); different interests are sure to bloom soon after.  So close together (oh, my kangaroos) and yet here at their closest, I can see the future reel, and it’s so subtly already starting to widen the circles of their dances, to fling those tiny arms out and away, a little longer every day, a little farther from their centers, and each others’ hearts, and mine.

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Bedtime storytime for two (who still like the same stories).





Little storyteller evolution

28 05 2017

There are a few posts back in the archives of Evanny learning to tell stories, but I haven’t given Tab the mic much beyond the bee-sting tale.  Here’s me making up for lost time with a few copied off of the paper scraps I jotted them on when they happened, one about a month ago and sounding like something she’d have said verbatim this morning (this month has been about other kinds of growth) and one from about 4 months before that, showing dramatic verbal leaps between the two.

Once upon a time, there a tiny girl call Rosabella.  And Rosabella have a tiny, tiny sister names Tabitha.  And they have a tiny Mommy, but not the daddy.  They daddy is big.  And once upon a time they have a dog and dog call Maggie. Tiny Tabitha and Rosabella talk about Evanny and Tabitha and “once upon a time there were two little girls.”

–Tab, 29 months.

Once upon a time you were teeny, and I was the mama, and I loved my teeny, teeny baby, but one day you were scared because there was an ant! And you screamed “ant, ant!” And I came to you and I picked up the ant in my two hands and took it outside.  And you said “Thank you, Mama,” and gave me a big kiss.

–Tab, 33 months.

My favourite things about the first one are the text-within-a-text story-nesting of how the girls in her story tell a story and the fact that none of our princess-or-fairy stories have involved anyone named “Rosabella.”  Ever.  There’s a “Bella” in one story and a “Rosetta” in another, but she created the lovely amalgam herself.  My favourite things about the second are that I get to be kissed and loved and protected, that these are the actions and associations that seem natural to her in her imagined role-reversal, and, of course, the compound-complex sentences.  Effective toddler use of independent and dependent clauses for the win!

And because we don’t want to be leaving anybody out, or losing track of any other evolutions (it’s so easy, when the big is big, to only watch the little, and forget how fast these bigger leaps are leaping!) here’s a contribution from the older sister, in the car on the way home from preschool, free-associating with wild delight:

What if there was a really big thing, like a house, but without any cars, and nobody lived there.  And you could go there, and by it, like in front of it, there was a really big dragon. And when they turned it on, it would breathe.  And if you went in front of it, with your back to it, you’d have to run really fast away from its breath.  And at the beginning, it had a soft claw that came out of it that could go into your throat and take out your voice!  And at the end it would put your voice back, but without any words, so all you could say was “Aggle flabble klabble.” But then they came and got some fire, and shot the fire at the dinosaur, I mean the dragon, and got the words back and gave them back to us.  To me and you, but not to Tabitha.  Everyone in our family got their voices back with their words but Tabitha.  So she could only flap her arms around and make faces to tell us what she wanted.  Like, if she licked her lips and looked really happy, it meant she wanted ice cream.  But if she looked sad, like really, really sad, it meant someone had taken something away from her.  Like her voice!

–Evanny storytelling, age 4 ½ .

There’s so much about this that I love, like the effort to tie it all together, the dividing and specifying what happens to whom, the self-correcting to maintain continuity, but if I have a favorite moment, it’s “Aggle flabble klabble,” which, rather than being the original made-up sound it sounds like, is a direct baby-talk quotation from a favorite book that we haven’t read in months.