1. I finish telling you your bedtime story -- part of our ritual, now. You like to add your own parts of the narrative: "and then Froggy said, 'Oh no!'" -- and your own plot twists: "But my Mommy was there, too." Always, though, you quiet down and listen while the story reaches its climax and relaxes into resolution. Then, every night, you sigh with a little smile on your face. "Thank you for the story, Mama" -- and it's as if I've just given you the most precious gift you can imagine.
2. It's Halloween night, and you have excitedly donned a dragon costume to join Tim and Katie and the neighborhood kids in the trick-or-treating tradition. I remember you last year at this time, in America for just two months, puzzled by all the new things you needed to learn. Now you seem to have mastered it. You run up to a house with the other kids, your purple trick-or-treating bag in your hands. The house owner plops a piece of candy in your bag. I expect you to run back to me, eager (like the other kids) to go on to the next house. But you look at me sadly. "Mommy, I'm all done," you say. "I want to give people candy from OUR house." So we go home, just the two of us, and make hot chocolate, waiting for the next doorbell ring, when you can offer the trick-or-treaters candy from the wooden bowl, your face shining with happiness.
3. I leave you at preschool early in the morning and watch you make your way to the snack table. You are wearing your green and purple dragon outfit from Halloween -- I think you love the tail and the claw mittens and the purple belly. One of the preschool teachers -- the one who irks me with her too-sharp voice -- slides your hood off your head. You look dismayed for a moment -- you don't look like a dragon without the hood! I ask why the hood has to come off; the teacher shrugs and says you'll be too hot. You nod -- you even look resigned -- and then walk hoodless to the snack table, where you cradle the hot chocolate I bought you from the coffee shop this morning and the kiss I've just blown to you (you always hold my morning kiss in your hand for awhile, before you put it in your pocket for safe-keeping). I walk to the jeep feeling sad -- tearful. I almost run back inside to scoop you up; I could call in sick; I could quit my job today. But then we wouldn't have rent money or groceries money or fly-to-Iowa money. You have to endure the teacher who won't let you fully be a dragon; I have to be a good grown-up and go to work. Neither of us is fully happy until we see each other again at the end of the day.
4. We've been outside coloring with sidewalk chalk at Gram's house in Des Moines. When I open the door for you, you make a beeline for Gram, who is sitting -- exhausted -- in her chair. You haven't connected with her much since we've been here, and I've wondered if her frailty troubles you -- but now you grab her hands and press them to your round checks. "Feel my cheeks, Gram," you tell her, speaking slowly and loudly like you've heard the grown-ups do. "Aren't they cold?" And Gram grins, cradling those soft cheeks in her wisened hands.
5. You are riding on my back in the baby backpack while we walk home from a hike out Basin Road.
"You know what song's in my head?" I ask you.
"Sing it, Mama!"
And I sing the song you taught me from your preschool: "The leaves are falling down, the leaves are falling down. . ."
"I put that in your head for you, Mommy!"
"Oh, thank you, TK!"
And we sing together all the way home, making up more verses for my head.
6. Your favorite game, lately, is to pretend you are the mommy and I am the baby. "Do you want some food, baby?" you ask me. I play along; you feed me, and then cradle my head in your arms. Then suddenly: "Mommy, how about you be the mommy again? I like that better."
7. At the First Friday gallery walk in downtown Juneau, we see Santa Claus on the sidewalk. This is your first official glimpse, since you were unaware of Santa's existence last year. You gape. Santa approaches and gets down on one knee. "Have you been good?" he asks. You nod wordlessly while he hands you a piece of red and white striped candy. "But, SANTA," you whisper, "I thought you weren't REAL!" Santa grins and gives his beard a good yank. "I'm real," he affirms. "So am I," you say solemnly.
8. How many cups of coffee and milk will we share together in cozy coffee shops, you telling me a long story, me enthralled with the little person you're becoming? I hope for so many that I will lose count.
9. We are climbing the tall, tall slide at the playground in Des Moines, while Aunt Katie snaps photos. I imagine how the photos will look -- me guiding you up the ladder, you looking upward with determination. The metaphor is obvious, but only partly true. So much of the time, you're leading me, showing me how to do this mama thing.