Friday, July 17, 2009

Treehugger

I have a friend who had her first daughter about a year before I had mine. When her daughter was about L’s age now and mine was learning how to crawl, she told me about her daughter’s kisses. “A___ loves to kiss on the mouth,” she told me. “And half the time she doesn’t remember to close her lips. So I get these full, open-mouth kisses from her all the time. And I know it’s gross. But I love them.” Um, yeah, I thought, sounds gross. Sweet, sure, but still gross.

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When L goes upstairs to bed at night it’s usually her daddy who takes her up. So before she goes she kisses and hugs E, kisses and hugs me, walks away, turns back for one more wave, then disappears. For months she’d go willingly with her father. Then she caught on that E wasn’t going upstairs, too, and now she doesn’t want to go. So the lovely husband bribes her. He holds out a pacifier, dangling it in the vicinity of the hallway. Yes, the pacifier we ought to be taking from her by now – but it works so well. She collects her paci, kisses, hugs, kisses, hugs, waves, walks away.

Recently M attempted to streamline the process. He asked L to distribute her goodnight wishes to us first, and only then collect her paci and walk upstairs. L nodded and began to oblige. She hugged her sister. She tried to kiss her sister. No!! E yelled. L, I don’t want a kiss like that!

The outburst surprised all of us and L looked confused. I gave L extra hugs and kisses and once she had left the room asked E what prompted her denial of smooching. I only like kisses from L when she already has her paci in her mouth. Otherwise she sucks a little on my lips. And I realized: it’s true. L is now that purveyor of the open-mouth kiss.

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When I was maybe six and my brother was maybe four we had a babysitter named Ellen. One winter night she took us downtown for the Festival of Lights. I don’t know why; maybe she wanted to spend her Saturday night chasing small energetic monkeys in the frosty air? The walking paths were crowded with twinkle lights and people and cigarette smoke and roasting-peanuts-smoke and ahead of us I saw a thick link chain stretched between two concrete posts. Without word or warning I left Matthew and Ellen behind and sprinted towards the chain. I saw a hurdle and I wanted to jump it. I heard Ellen scream. “What are you doing? STOP!! STOP!!” but my brain didn’t listen in any manner that elicited a response. My brain wondered, “why?” I ran and I jumped and I cleared that hurdle and I landed on the other side. Triumphant!


And then I saw I was standing not on another walking path, but in the middle of Rainbow Boulevard. To my left, a light had changed and a hundred headlights were approaching me at good speed. “Oh,” I thought, and ducked back under the chain.

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Forever now, when we walk out of daycare at the end of the day the girls break into a run. So forever now, I break into a yell: “Girls! Stop at the tree!” Because two feet beyond the tree is the curb. And just beyond the curb is the driveway of a large government building, upon which 1,000 employees in 1,000 cars are pulling out of the garage at high speed towards their personal lives, towards an evening’s freedom. And not even a chain link separates my girls from all that tantalizing open space where unannounced drag races commence in spurts.

So they each hurl themselves towards the tree, one arm out, and slingshot themselves around and back at me. On days when the magic is right, they slingshot around simultaneously and into each other’s arms, a four-way embrace of trunk, girl, girl and giggles. And so it has come to be that we cannot get in the car until the girls have hugged the tree.

Daycare traffic density being what it is, sometimes I cannot get a parking spot right near the tree. There are days when we might have to walk the length of four or five cars to reach our own chariot. Down the length of this driveway there is not just the slingshot tree; trees are planted at about every ten feet. And so it has come to be that we cannot get in the car until the girls have hugged each tree along the distance to our car.

One evening this week, L, who so strongly associates hugs with kisses, slipped a little tongue to the bark of the last maple. She began to wail, a funny open-mouth wail, a wail that had her fingers wiggling across her lips. Yuck! she bawled. Mouf! (That would be ‘mouth,’ for those of you who need a translation from One-ish to English.)

I wiped the grit from her mouth and tongue and knelt on the sidewalk to pull her milk cup out of her backpack. E’s contribution to the recovery effort was better, though. She took both her sister’s hands in her own. She looked her eye-to-eye. And she passed on some sisterly wisdom: No, L. Trees are not for kissing and hugging. People are for kissing and hugging but trees are just for hugging.
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