Saturday, May 30, 2009

An Evening Walk Addressed to a Young Lady

Last night as the lovely husband took L upstairs for bed I looked out the window to a just-cleared evening sky and proposed to E a walk.

It had rained. It had rained all afternoon the kind of rain that made my daughters jump in fear in their carseats when the thunder crashed; the kind where the sky was not gray, but yellow; the kind that kept us huddled indoors; the kind where traffic lights were out and at more than one stretch I was grateful for the all-wheel drive that made my car feel steady as it auditioned for the Duck Tours amphibious fleet.

And then, just around the younger one's bedtime, a puff of cooler air blew in and carried the storm clouds away. So out we went.

Small rivers flowed down the gutters of houses and the edges of lawns. E made a game of Being Unpredictable. At ever encounter with water she made the decision: Jump Over? or Splash In? without ever warning me of her choice. We walked in the middle of the street because we have no sidewalks but also because of the edge rivers but also because the best pavement cracks for following are in the middle of the street. Everyone knows that and when you see a crack you have to follow it, even if it takes you backwards, even if it takes you to water. She loves to hold hands when we walk, which I love as well, but be it known that holding hands with E is not akin to a moving snuggle; it's akin to becoming one of the monitoring wires attached to the body of an aerobics instructor during a fitness efficiency test. It is an endurance exam of one's balance and wit and dexterity and crossing guard skills. You never know when you might be called upon to stop short to express a vocal EWWWW!! at some poor shlub of a worm who has just been flooded out of her subterranean and preschooler-free home. You never know when you might be yanked into a full sprint because a doggie has been spotted, and doggies need to be petteded.

We followed dogs and said hi to neighbors and encircled cul-de-sacs and as the sky grew dark we played peekaboo with the moon, who had a mischievous habit of hiding behind trees. And we talked, nonstop. E's past the age where she still believes I know everything (that ended when she asked me a few months ago, what sound does a giraffe make?) because she now hears from me at least a gazbillion times a day, "I don't know, love, but let's look it up next time we're near a computer." She's not, however, past the age where new knowledge is wondrous. I hope she isn't for a very long time.

Two days ago as I tried to take the girls home safely in another monsoon (and remind me to tell you another time about what that was like, when I had one umbrella with which to get the girls out of daycare and E took it from my hands and ran with it and L wanted an umbrella so she started screaming and sat down right on the ground in the pouring rain reaching towards her increasingly-far-off sister for that stupid umbrella, wearing no jacket because neither girl had brought a jacket that day, and the daycare director herself came out just then, and seeing L on the ground tried to pull her up and shelter her under her umbrella, but she leaned in too close and L got the umbrella handle and grabbed it and pulled it down to her height and the director, who is five months pregnant and also had just gotten her hair done, squat-walked all the way to my car under her own umbrella that was in the hands and power and control of my knee-high daughter, good times indeed) I was talking through my motions in an attempt to calm down the two wound-up children following a challenging transition from school to car amidst flashes of bolt lightning. I was monologuing about turning on the car's headlights and turning on the windshield wipers and turning on the window defrosters and turning on the rear wiper and E cut me off: a BACK WIPER? Yes, I said, the windshield wiper on the back window, and she replied incredulously, well, why do you need one of those??!! And I answered too simply, well, because the rain falls on the back window, too, and the back wiper clears the window so I can see, just like the front wipers clear the front window so I can see. She started sputtering. How do you see behind us!!??!!??!! And ohhhh, I thought. She doesn't know about the mirrors. I explained to her about rear-view mirrors and side-view mirrors. She hadn't known about them. She never knew that rear-view vision is part of driving. It's a nothing thing, but she never knew. And she was fascinated.

So we were walking, talking about the kinds of doggies we saw and the kinds of birds we saw and the kinds of trees we passed, and also looking in every single parked vehicle we passed to see if it had a rear-view mirror. (They all did.) The doggies weren't hard because we asked their owners about their breeds; the birdies weren't hard just because we didn't see anything too exotic; the trees weren't too difficult because there are only about three trees I can identify, so there was a whole lot of "I don't know, but we can try to look it up later." We did pass oak tree after oak tree (which I can identify), and when we came to an oak tree with a tree face on it E was as captivated as she was with the revelation about rear-view mirrors. (Which proves, incidentally, that the mind you're born with is an amazing gift not to be taken for granted, but tacky still must be taught.) Why does that tree have a face, Mama? she giggled, and thereon oak trees were all called face trees.

We turned back onto our street and could see our house, two doors down, its porch light warmly awaiting our return. We paused at the corner, that intersection of Aimless Wandering and Almost Bedtime, and we called out some goodnight wishes to our adventure, to our neighborhood. She would speak and I would repeat her words and they became an offering, a prayer, that we sent out on the cool breeze for anything that might be receptive to hearing it. Goodnight, moon, she offered and waved, and I repeated. Goodnight, birdies. Goodnight, street cracks. Goodnight, nice doggies. Goodnight, face trees.

We stood in the gloaming and she pulled free of my hand for the first time since we had set out. She looked at our porch light, measured with her eyes and asked me: Mama, can I run home all by myself? And I nodded. Yes.

A mind, that, in a calm angelic mood
Of happy wisdom, meditating good,
Beholds, of all from her high powers required,
Much done, and much designed, and more desired,--
Harmonious thoughts, a soul by truth refined,
Entire affection for all human kind.
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