A small voice, in the dead of night, from Jonathan’s side of the bed. “Mama, I go potty in my undies.” He’s gone, Jonathan is, a quick trip east for work, so I drag my eyes open and shuffle to her, gathering her in my arms. “It’s ok, sweetheart. Let’s get you cleaned up.” I strip the bed and remake it, daubing at the spot where the wetness leaked down the side of the mattress pad, throwing sheets and pad and little girl PJs into the washer, cleaning skinny legs with a wipe. I kiss and soothe and sing, coaxing her back to the land of dreams. Half an hour after that timid wake-up call, I’m just settling back to sleep myself when Abby calls from the nursery, needing settling of her own. I groan, thinking of the morning that starts all too early, then pull myself out of bed.
Two girls, together on the living room floor. Daddy and Katie have dragged the extra pillows and unneeded comforters from her room, piling them together in a soft heap, and he shows her how to fall, how the padding keeps her from getting hurt. Katie stands, a grin on her face, then topples forwards, her legs and back straight. With a laugh, she jumps up and does it again. And again. And again. Abby watches, entranced. Then, a grin splitting her face, she makes a beeline for the pile, crawling as fast as her legs will go. She sits at the edge of the mound for a moment, then leans forward, folding her body in two until her forehead touches the blankets. Laughing, she sits back up and looks at me, at Daddy, at Katie, seeking acknowledgement. We cheer for her – “Yay, Abby” – the humor simmering in our voices, and she flaps her arms in excitement. She, too, does it again and again, delighted to be just like her big sister.
Breakfast time, a plate of fresh fruit and scrambled eggs on the table. Katie, who has been telling me ever since she woke up that she’s hungry, gobbles down her two slices of peach before I’ve even had the chance to sit down. She nibbles at her eggs, taking a bite that hardly qualifies as a bite, then drops her fork. “I all done,” she announces. I’ve been down this road before, and I know what comes at its end, know what I’ll have in half an hour if I don’t coax her to eat more now: a hangry girl, unable to listen, to obey, to be kind to her sister, with a solid hour and a half to go before snack time. “I don’t think that’s a good plan, sweetheart. You’ll be pretty hungry later if you don’t eat now.” I finish my breakfast, then begin to clean the kitchen, as she finishes the food on her plate, one painstakingly slow bite at a time. After an eternity, she’s done, and I breathe a sigh of relief, grateful we can finally move on to the rest of the day. She looks up at me then, an innocent look in her eyes. “Now what I can have to eat?” she asks.
A hot afternoon at the end of June, a perfect day for a bit of water play. We’re at Grandma’s house. The sprinkler’s set up on the lawn and Katie runs through it without hesitation. After a few passes, she turns to where Grandma and Abby and I sit on the swing. “You have any water toys?” she asks. Grandma disappears inside – “Let me see what I can find” – and returns a few minutes later with some bowls and a watering can. Katie experiments: placing the larger bowl over the sprinkler to hear the sound it makes, holding the watering can up close to fill it up. After a few minutes, she looks over to me. “Abby play in sprinkler too, Mama?” I hesitate, not wanting to disrupt the baby’s equilibrium during what tends to be her fussiest time of day, then compromise. “How about I set her on the edge of the grass, and she can decide if she wants to crawl to the sprinkler or not?” Katie nods. She fills the small bowl with water, then brings it to her sister. Abby promptly turns it over her own legs, blinking a bit at the cold water, then holds it up, a grin on her face. Katie takes it, refills it, and brings it back, and they continue playing this way, my two girls, laughing and smiling, enjoying the sun and the grass and the water and each other.
Monday afternoon, coming home after a grocery run. I unstrap Katie first, then hand her the shoes that have somehow managed to move from her feet to opposite ends of the car on our ride home. “Please put these on, then go on up the stairs and into the house while I get Abby out of her seat.” The shoes go on easily enough, but when I pull my head out of the car, Abby in my arms, Katie is sitting on the floor of the garage, arms crossed against her chest. “Katie, sweetie? It’s time to go inside and make some lunch. Please -” Before I can make the request, she’s screaming, her head thrown back in frustration, and I have no idea what’s wrong. Abby’s head swivels from her sister to me and then back again, and then she, too decides to join in the fun. I take a deep breath, then another. Leaving Katie to cry on the floor of the garage, I bundle Abby inside, distracting her with a toy to calm her down, then go back to get her sister. Katie meets me at the door. She’s stopped screaming, but as soon as she sees my face, she starts again. I crouch down, reach out to hold her shoulders, to push her hair back from her face. “Katelyn. Sweetheart. What’s going on?” Through her sobs, she gasps out her complaint: “I not like the noise the garage door makes.”
Bedtime. I nurse Abby, rocking in the soft light of the nursery as the day nears its end. She swallows, long deep gulps, filling her tummy against the stretches of the night. As she finishes, as she slows, she turns her head against me and our eyes meet. She grins at me, reaching up to touch my nose, my chin, my cheek. I sing to her. She relaxes against me and I smile, then transfer her to her crib, placing my hand on her back as I pray for her. Tonight is an easy night; she looks up at me with sleepy eyes as I leave the room, fussing only once before drifting off to sleep. Jonathan meets me in the hall: he’s finished Katie’s bedtime routine. I slip into her room to say goodnight. She grins up at me as I tuck the sheet up around her chin, as I lean down to kiss her cheek. I turn back at the door for our last ritual of the night – “Good night, Ham! I love you, Ham,” we say to each other, laughter in our voices as we repeat our inside joke.
I climb into bed, exhausted from another full day, another day of highs and lows, of tantrums and laughter. I think through the day, grateful for this life I’ve been given, smiling over the good moments, reflecting on the bad.
My eyes close, and I drift off to sleep.