Monday, April 2, 2012

Conversations


We ran into the preschool room this morning. L showed me a picture she had drawn on Friday and left in her cubby. I counted four human-ish figures and asked who they were. Usually she draws five characters and calls it a family portrait. She’s creative, that one, and often assigns meanings on the spot as if they’d been there all along. I watched her brain spin. ­Oh! I drew it for G! It’s Elmo, see? Because he loves Elmo. She pointed to the red one. See, G? Elmo! I drew it for you!

He clutched the paper with great fervor. Elmowoll! he cried out, which is how he calls Elmo now, not by his name but by his famous sketch, “Elmo’s World.” A teacher knelt down between my excited little recipient and my proud little artist. “Who else did you draw here, L?”

Spinspinspin. That’s Cookie Monster! Because he’s blue! And that’s Big Bird. This scribble is his beak and that scrabble is his tail.

“Who’s the green one?”

I don’t know! she smirked with an upraised shoulder and a sideways smile, belying her supposed plan.

“Could it be Oscar the Grouch?” the teacher asked.

Yeah! It’s Oksar! she said in that funny way she has of transposing a few consonants here and there. They’re almost gone, the transpositions, untangled have they off the skein of her tongue.

G turned around. Hi, Meiwee! He speaks so much more than he did even a month ago. But just moments ago at the fridge as we unpacked his food I congratulated my mama-self on understand almost everything he says, even as I realize that most people probably still wouldn’t, here he is saying something clearly to someone, and I can’t identify the words.

Ms. Williams had just entered the room, and she understood him perfectly. “Hi, G!” she returned in greeting. “What do you have in your hand!”

Elmowoll! L dat Elmowoll me too! G says “me too” now for anything first-person. “L dat” indicated his sister as the artist. I knew Ms. Williams mostly understood. But not having been privy to the early translation, there was no way for her to look at the red, green, yellow and blue scribbles and positively identify Elmo. So we interpreted for her.

Last night E and I read a pivotal chapter in her book, set just after World War I. The protagonist, named Ella, made the weighty decision to pursue her dreams of singing on stage after being picked up by a casting director. Her boyfriend didn’t hesitate to express his disappointment that she wouldn’t agree to marry him and keep house while he attended college. This baffled my E. So we talked about when women didn’t have equal balance of power in relationships or in ambition. She couldn’t understand. I’ve done something right, I thought to myself. She didn’t understand the idea of keeping house and protested by pointing out that her daddy does most of the dishes. We’ve done something right, I affirmed. “You have a great daddy,” I said, “and also remember that this book took place a long, long time ago.”

She laughed and thought about the Ella in her book. I’m going to sing on stage when I grow up, she said.

This is my girl who couldn’t look strangers in the eye at the beginning of the school year; who found her own seat next to two kids she didn’t know at a birthday party last weekend; who accepted an invitation to sit on a new person’s lap yesterday; who dreams now of fame instead of shrinking from attention. We’re used to G’s voice and L’s pictures and E’s downcast eyes but they are not the same things we think of them as day after day after day. Time marches forward.

This photograph has nothing to do with anything, except that it exactly portrays our life. Last week our whole family went to kindergarten to watch E's class performance, and in front of seventeen pairs of parents, at least five sets of grandparents, two teachers and a whole line of five- and six-year-olds mid-recitation, L decided to try balancing a cup on her face, which made G squeal loudly. Of course we were sitting in the very, very front row. 
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