She’s big enough now, on tippy-toes and on ever-lengthening legs, to swipe her allergy medicine off the lazy Susan from the upper cabinet that’s to the left of the stainless steel stove. She’s grown taller and stronger but no matter how hard she presses down on the liquid Xyzal’s child-proofed, plastic cap, she’s unable to master its removal. She sighs in frustration while I think . . . When will her dexterity match her determination? Did her hair grow long enough to reach the tops of her legs, or did her legs grow long enough to reach her hair? How can she be so big and so impossibly little?
She interrupts my thoughts, asking, “Mom, is there going to be any fires?”
She sniffs her medicine, crinkles her nose, and laps the Xyzal tentatively, wary of the medicine although she takes it nightly.
“No sweet girl,” I reply before she careens down the dim, narrow hallway–arms outstretched to alternate touching both sides of the hallway as she goes, ricocheting like a bowling ball off bumpers–to brush her teeth. Her hair, tangled and bleached a light summer brown, drifts behind her, torturing the gray tabby kitty following her. She casts a mischievous smile, a plea that sifts twinkles into her brown sugar eyes, over her shoulder down at the cat.
Before she disappears around the corner, the kitten capitalizes on the plea, bowling into her. He jumps, swiping at her hair.
“Suny! Stop it!” she shrieks, affronted, sounding more like a teenage girl whose little brother has ruined her Instagram worthy ponytail by pulling it than a little thing admonishing a naughty kitten.
And I think . . . How can she be so big and so impossibly little?
She brushes her teeth, changes into her nightgown, climbs into her bed. While I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to her, the cat bats around a stray Lego, distracting us both.
It’s her turn to play a song while I braid her hair. “Alexa, play ‘Rain On Me’ by Lady Gaga,” she instructs her Amazon Echo Dot. I start on her right side, combing back her locks with my fingers, dividing it into three sections. I waterfall it three times before grabbing a crunchy section, tacky and wafting hints of apples into the air.
“Did you get applesauce in your hair today?” I ask, ditching the braid and starting over. A whole pouch of applesauce must be ensconced in half her hair.
“No, I got it all over my dress.” She says, rolling her eyes.
“Did you clean it up?”
“Did your hair touch the front of your dress today?”
“So where do you think the spilled applesauce went?”
Realization dawns in her eyes. “My hair?”
“Next time, clean up after yourself, and put your hair behind your shoulders while you’re eating,” I suggest, barely disguised laughter in my tone.
She shakes her head yes in response and, in time with the poppy dance music playing in the background, croons, “Rain on me, tsunami.”
I shake my head at her and leave her hair loose. It’ll be even more of a disaster in the morning, but I can’t waste any more energy dealing with it.
“Would you rather have applesauce in your hair or open the Chamber of Secrets?” she asks.
“Totally have applesauce in my hair.” A crooked smile steals across my face. “What about you?”
“Samesies!” she giggles.
She curls up into a ball on her bed, surrounded by stuffed animals and stuffed animal-shaped pillows, and I pull her fluffy pink comforter up to her chin. She reaches for her favorite plushie, a small gray and white striped kitty with a turquoise glitter bow and waterfall-colored, glassy eyes.
“You know what you forgot to do today?” I ask.
“Feed the invisible chickens in the front yard.”
“Mom,” she draws the word out, making it two syllables, “How many times do I have to tell you? Invisible chickens don’t exist.”
“And how many times do I have to tell you that just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there? How can you keep letting out pets starve?” I feign distress.
The incredulity dissipates from her face like a balloon slowly leaking air. How much longer can I keep this charade up? I want her to picture invisible chickens pecking around free-range, clucking, and happy with the palm trees and our house in the background forever.
“I don’t believe you,” she whispers, more dubious than assertive.
“I guess I’ll just have to feed them after I finish tucking you in.”
I kiss her forehead. My lips accidentally brushing the spot where she dabbed it with holy water.
“Good night, sweet girl,” I say while turning off the lights, checking to see that I’ve positioned her nightlight’s reflection properly on the wall so she can make shadow puppets until she falls asleep.
“Mommy,” she calls, tacking on the M and the Y because she’s more little than big in the dark. “I know I already asked, but is there going to be any fires?”
“No sweet girl. But you know what to do if there is one. Go to sleep. I need to go feed the invisible chickens.”
I close her door halfway and pause. She has both hands raised above her, thumbs hooked and twisted, fingers splayed wide open and fluttering–creating a shadow butterfly on the wall. Her tongue sticks out her mouth’s left side, and she bites down on it in concentration, just like she did when she was a chubby toddler building towers out of blocks. My breath hitches because she’s still impossibly little, if only for a little while longer.