BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! her feet yell at me onomatopoeically after she has been instructed no longer to do so herself verbally.
Still, I sit on the couch.
She returns, juts her jaw to me, verifies I'm watching, and rolls her eyes.
Did you see that? I rolled my eyes at you.
"I saw, love."
Yeah? Well, I'm doing it again.
She stamps away, goes up the stairs alone.
I pour her cup of bedtime milk and follow up slowly, giving her time to complete her nighttime routine without my button-pushing presence. She's in possession of big-kid anger now, though she's still little-kid hurt by the behaviors of others. She rolls her eyes at me but needs me to reassure her that I saw the act of defiance happen. She sticks her tongue out but only if I am looking at her to see it happen. She stamps her feet because she knows she's not allowed to hit, because I told her that if the anger inside her gets so big she absolutely must let it out, that she can let it out through her feet, but never through her hands. She stamps as loudly as she can, but only if I watch.
She's in bed, showing me her profile. Her jaw juts up in measured hostility. She looks swanlike. Regal. She sits so that she clearly isn't looking at me, but toward me enough to watch me see her not looking at me. The last baby fat fell from her cheeks this year, and at almost 5 years old, and at angry jaw angle of night time, I see how seriously she wants me to see her as big. Formidable. Offended on legitimate grounds.
I respect the intensity of her feelings and with care I pause before I speak. Then I scoop her into my arms and squeeze her with the tenderest but firmest of not-letting-go hugs. "I love you no matter what," I tell her. "I love you forever. I love you when you're angry at me. I love you right now. I love up to the stars and the rocket ships and all the silly things we say. No matter how many times you roll your eyes at me, I love you all the way up to God."
She doesn't look at me, but she relaxes in my arms.
"But you still can't behave like that."
She tenses again in re-anger.
She wants to act angry to be seen as tough. She wants to intimidate with her ferocity, and certainly she is fierce. She wants to wear me down with her locked, jutted jaw.
She is tough. And she is without question fierce. And she is sometimes now filled with anger. She wants me to see these things and I let her know that I've seen them. But what I can't let her know that I've seen, the real reason I paused before I spoke, is that more than anything else, the way she sets her demeanor so determinedly and calculates the degree of my attention she has captured --
she's so stinkin' cute.