Each partial eclipse of the heart

12 06 2015

They’re almost daily around here, these glides of the filmy obscurity of big life over the moon-bright, closely held faces of my tiny daughters.  Already, so often, especially across Evanny’s, slides some expression I’ve never seen before that I know she learned from one of her friends, out of my sight, outside my purview, in the life of her own that she, already, at still-just-2, lives when I’m not there.  She says things with borrowed intonations that I don’t recognize–phrases she gets from other kids or other adults, little cultural slices of a life too big for her yet, but not so far away anymore, that she copies off her brother, or repeated elements of TV shows I haven’t watched with her, because she watches some things with her dad and brother while I’m taking care of Tabitha or grading papers.

Little Miss glam girl rocking out her Minnie Mouse sunglasses and those long, long legs.

Little Miss glam girl rocking out her Minnie Mouse sunglasses and those long, long legs.

Sometimes I hear the echoes of particular peers and tease her–when she barks “What?!” at me, in response to something she heard perfectly well, that’s Lulu; when she bowls right over what I’m trying to explain to her to say again why something has to be done her way, my reply is often “all right, Nathan.”  “I’m not Na-finn!” she’ll laugh, and it’s kind of an in-joke between us (her eyes smile in this “I get it, Mama-who-thinks-she’s-clever” way) and at the same time a bit of a warning to us both: I’m always going to have a bit more ability than she wants me to have of seeing through the glamours she tries on, and she’s always going to have more glamours to try than I’m going to be able to recognize.

Tabitha standing at the neighborhood park, just one of the millions of places where standing is the best thing next to two-hand-walking ever.

Tabitha standing at the neighborhood park, just one of the millions of places where standing is the best thing next to two-hand-walking ever.

With Tabitha, it’s more just the little leaps and bounds of baby-growth, which happen faster in second children, or at least seem to, because Mum-the-watcher is so distracted by the antics of the other one that I’m looking away as often as I’m not.  One day, she scooted a little ways across the floor, the next day farther, the next week put her hands down to practice her speed-scoot drag-crawl, the week after that got all four limbs into coordinated effort to cross the room and climb the stairs, and the baby I could put down and expect to find where I’d left her slid into shadow for good.  One day she clapped her hands, and the dark blur eclipsed a little corner of our world for a moment: the baby who didn’t know how to do that, who watched Darcy do it with a puzzled face that seemed to say “why in the world would you smack your own hands?” was gone forever.  One day, and then already the past few days, she was-is standing, assisted by less and less each time (at this point, she can stabilize herself with anything at all in her hands: a crayon, a sticker, a scrap of tissue; it’s a matter of not-much-time-at-all before she realizes that she’d be doing the same thing if those hands just find each other, or if they don’t). Walking is imminent, and despite how tiny she still is, despite her fierce love affair with my boobs and her hand always in my shirt, despite the tiny softness of that gummy baby mouth with just two teeth still, the lines I used to post the brag when Evanny took her first steps from couch to me and back again (“the baby-baby show is over, folks”) are already ringing in my ears.

It’s been a busy winter-into-Spring, rounding out my classes, ushering in summer jobs, welcoming my dad back to town, trying to keep everybody’s heads above water through track season and the end of Matt’s school year, and while I’ve been too busy to reflect on much of anything, the girls have been eclipsing their past selves daily, getting bigger, longer-haired, more vocal, more moody: just all around BIGGER in the world, taking up more air, more space, fighting for their own territories, defining selfhood, blooming-if-not-bursting into being as the warm days creep into the calendar.

Victorious, and proud every time of the victory, Tabitha climbs the slide ladder and confidently waves her arms around (this is a pointing exercise.  You're supposed to meet her finger with your own, Michelangelo).

Victorious, and proud every time of the victory, Tabitha climbs the slide ladder and confidently waves her arms around (this is a pointing exercise. You’re supposed to meet her finger with your own, Michelangelo).

Tath, Tabby, Tathy, Tabitha at gaining on eleven months is discovering her temper; still remarkably plucky about Ev’s teasing, being wrangled to the floor, stepped over up the slide ladder, having objects pulled out of her grasp, she’s also developing a deep, loudly vocal screech-growl of protest when her limits are pushed–and in the days since she’s started doing it, she’s amped both volume and frequency of attempt, as if the idea that she might have some autonomy after all is both new and heady.  Alongside clapping and standing, she eats anything and everything that a mostly-toothless baby can manage, says “cat” twenty times for every sighting of an animal of any  kind (it was “eck” a week ago, whereas all other objects and impulses earn a cry of “egg!” or “dagdag!”), says “Mumumumum” when she’s mad that I’m not coming to fetch her out of the crib fast enough and “Dadadada!” when she’s mad at me for anything else, a trick I’m pretty sure she learned from her sister, who does the same thing.

A little flower in the center of her sun-hat, Tathy peeks around a playground post to say hello.

A little flower in the center of her sun-hat, Tathy peeks around a playground post to say hello.

She climbs both sides of the living room slide, goes up-and-down the ladder over and over (planning, apparently, to figure out “ladders” as an entire concept at the same time, rather than taking the Evanny route of learning to go up them a good year before she thought to train her body, not just her rescuers, to get her down), and transitions successfully at the top to do it “right,” up the blue ladder, feet through into sitting position, sliding down the red diagonal on her butt or switching her hands to turn around, lie down, and glide feet-first on her belly.  If Evanny’s around, she’ll volunteer to “catch” her, which often means pull a leg and almost pull Tatha off-balance entirely (this is good practice for that balance to develop, right?), or wait until Tabitha is trying to crawl up from the bottom to slide down herself, which crashes her into her sister, big feet sliding right under little legs, sweeping the baby into a hug like an avalanche, which Matt can’t bear to watch, imagining smashed heads and broken limbs everywhere, but both girls seem to find amusing enough to do over and over.

Monkey lessons: as in

Monkey lessons: as in “two little monkeys jumping on the bed”!

Tabitha loves the baby swings at all playgrounds, under our deck, and in friends’ backyards.  She loves fresh berries, bananas, avocados, butternut squash, peanut butter on tiny bites of bread (the rules have changed), cinnamon Farina, and stealing her sister’s Goldfish crackers.  If we’re out somewhere, perhaps touring the zoo, and she’s hungry, she will happily maneuver Cheerios into her tiny mouth with those precise little grabbing fingers, but at home, knowing damn well there are better choices, she’ll spit them out and fling them.She hates diaper changes with an all-consuming passion, and will try to wrestle her way out of them until I’m holding her down so hard, so awkwardly, or usually both, that it probably actually does hurt, my sharp thumbs digging into her plump little thighs to try to hold her still enough to wrap the tabs around her before she flips her leg over the side of the table and tries to make a break for it.  Her favorite thing on earth is still her sister, whose voice keeps her from sleeping, and whose smiling face can rocket our baby into a mirroring wide-mouthed beam of joy from any state.

Evanny, after months and months of everything–EVERYTHING–being about Jake and the Never Land pirates (“I’m Jake, you’re Izzy, that’s Cubby.  No I’m Izzy, you’re Jake.  Tabby can be Skully.  No, I’m Patch, you’re Jake, Tabby is Skully, and Daddy is Captain Hook!  Augh!  I tripped on a rock!  My pixie dust!”) is starting to branch out a little in her fandoms; she’s melting Matt’s heart with her adoration of certain Marvel creations (“I just loooooooove Iron Man!”), she watches The Hive because Matt likes the accent and Lola loves bees, she likes to go “Raaaawr!” and say “Hulk SMASH,” and this week it’s been all about The Secret of Kells (“I’m Brendan, you’re Aisling.  No, I’m Aisling, you’re Brendan.  Aaaaa!  The dark cave!  Crom Cruach!”).  Fortunately, soft spots for Merida of Brave and for all things unicorn remain.  She’s become articulate to the point of being an actual conversationalist; at night, if we vary her bedtime song and listen to “With or Without You” for a change, she’ll ask me why he’s sad, and who he’s talking to, and what it means for somebody to be confused by God, to be both glad and lonely.  “Angels,” she’s explained to me, are “a kind of fairy, and God is their dad”; she credits this theology to her older brother.  The “angel” conversation was the first time I asked her what she knew about God, and how I found out that she even has a concept there–I hadn’t thought to try to take on the inexplicably conceptual quite yet, with someone just starting to recognize hints from her own body that it might be time to take a poo, and while I was waffling on the matter, she was finding things out from somebody else.  It’s a fine starting point, and he’s in general a fine teacher (he absorbs way too much dogma from the North country, but he’s inherently a thinker, so I’m not worried that he’ll dig in too hard about it; I imagine Caleb will always be drawn to religion, and always both willing to think more about the implications of the easy answers he’s given and troubled by how “easy” is rarely “all”), so it’s fine, but also that bit jarring.  So much happens when I’m not looking or listening; so much of her life is already bursting into bloom like its own wild climbing-rose garden, and I’m still standing there with a flower pot in one hand and a tiny watering can in the other, expecting to nurture one still and upright little daisy.

Playground daredevil is delighted to meet new climbing challenges as soon as they present themselves.

Playground daredevil is delighted to meet new climbing challenges as soon as they present themselves.

Hurtling towards three (and this pains me to even imagine, because three-year-olds are kids; two-year-olds have kid skills, kid moments, kid aspirations, but they’re still looking over their shoulders at the security of babyhood every hour or two.  Three-year-olds live across that line forever, firmly inhabiting kid-dom until the day they leave it behind as well.  I don’t want to hold her back, to keep her small, to keep her from anything or anyone she wants to do or be, but I am absolutely in my heart of hearts not ready for “Evvy-squish,” my ferocious tiny baby, to be three already!), Evanny is bold, openly defiant and joyful in the expression of this defiance, intensely loving, wildly energetic, and also thoughtful, careful (about the things she feels warrant care), curious about most things but cautious about bugs, disinterested in snuggling the cat, overly interested in snuggling (also usually known as wrestling) her sister, and still overcome with screaming glee each week when her brother arrives.  She’s learning to negotiate social interactions with the big girls at Katy’s, and I overhear her sometimes at drop-off, when Tabitha is playing with Darcy and I’m lingering in the sunny yard to let her, addressing Charlotte and Lulu, both four, as “Girls, girls, girls!” at the start of some assertion.

“I’m all covered in Tinkerbell!” exclaims my little diva, on her way to a date with a hose and 11 of her closest friends at the Little Strathmore Schoolhouse.

Phrases like “leave me alone” and “You just do whatever you want to do” have added themselves to her repertoire.  Fast at both visual and auditory learning, she picks up songs in 2 or 3 repetitions, memorizes the locations of the hidden pictures in her magazine puzzles, counts to ten reliably (often twelve) and is starting to recognize letters.  She loves her family, like all little kids do, which, to her, includes her Papa, her Lola, and her Grandma (Papa Smith is going to have to make a new bid next year–2 years is a hard wait to remember through, when you’re still only 2), and Maggie, even though we haven’t seen the dog in months.  (The cats are basically moving furniture; she doesn’t know yet that you have to love them too, while they’re here to love, because someday they’ll go away.)  She loves the “playlound,” the zoo, the library, the grocery store (which she thinks of as a running track), the airport, and Daddy’s school (mostly because of its “playlound”).  She talks about school as a thing for big kids, and while on the school front, she still recognizes her smallness, in other matters, she’s starting to identify herself as one of the big kids, putting Tabitha in the other camp.  She’s been wearing training pants and/or underwear all week, finally ready to move out of diapers at her own determination, and we couldn’t be more delighted about this development, although I think Matt and I are both a little hesitant to believe her, since we’ve hoped for so long for this to happen, and she was so almost ready at 18 months before she changed her mind and decided babyhood was still alluring, with a baby on the way.  She loves to sing, to dance, to run, to jump, to crawl, to climb, to stretch, to slide, and suddenly it seems like cartwheels can’t be all that far away, when it was only yesterday that her arms were as short as Tabitha’s, just barely reaching the crown of her own head to smear banana in her wispy baby-hair. It’s not an intellectual surprise: every parent ever, since the dawn of complaining about parenthood, has talked about how fast it goes, how it speeds up like an avalanche, how you blink and they baby is walking, blink again and she’s asking to borrow the car keys, but it feels surprising, over and over again.  Every day, they’re so much bigger, so much less my “two babies” and so much more “my daughters,” the girls who will become the women who will dominate and dazzle the rest of my days.  So much wonder, so much growing, so much blessed bursting into bloom, and yet with each beautiful new unfurling, the new greens of their little springs start to disappear into memory, the tight-fisted, soft-backed buds of their beginnings eclipsed by petals reaching for the sun, clamouring for notice, all color and light, the rains and whispers that fed them and coaxed them out already forgotten in their dash toward summer’s full-moon brightness.

The torch has been passed: our little girl is big enough to be the one holding somebody ELSE up in zoo elephant pictures, instead of the one being held herself.  And Tabitha's delight is clear: there's no doubt on her part that she's in safe hands.

The torch has been passed: our first little girl is big enough to be the one holding somebody ELSE up in zoo elephant pictures, instead of the one being held herself. You can see that she’s a little shy of the responsibility, but there’s a good measure of pride there as well.  And Tabitha’s delight is clear: there’s no doubt on her part that she’s in safe hands.

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