Washington, DC – “How are your eyes so big?” I ask quietly, to no one in particular. She turns to me, dinner-plate eyes blinking in confusion. “Never mind.” I tell her placatingly, and she cocks her head to one side. Of course; she isn’t one to be placated. I hand her a sad excuse for a playdough cake, and she nods, satisfied.
Such are the conversations to be had with a two-year old.
She reaches out with hands dwarfed by my own to reach for the “cake”, casually destroying it between her minute fingernails. No one told me that babysitting largely involved small children critiquing your modeling clay skills, but I don’t find myself minding much. My eyes drift to the walls of the house, so eerily empty without her parents in it. She continues her ministrations on my playdough abomination, but I keep up the conversation, because I’m a nice person and all.
“You know what’s really hard to believe?” I ask. She makes a curious sound, like she’s waiting for me to go on, but it’s suspiciously like the sound she makes when she wants a drink of water, so I hand her the sippy cup as I continue.
“I knew you when your fingernails were even smaller.” She hands me back the cup; half the water has ended up all over her shirtfront. She made it clear within the first ten minutes of seeing her that drinking water is an independent matter; help is not required and will be met with fierce, pouty consequences. I still wipe away the excess with the towel slung around my neck, smoothing her hair back to kiss her forehead. This, she allows; she giggles happily, and I take it in my stride as a sign to keep talking. “The first time I saw you, your hair was straight, and you were hiding behind your mom, and your fingernails were so small I could barely see them.”
I look at her again, nearly tall enough to reach her high chair on her own, hair curly as anything, beaming at me as she smashes the playdough to a pulp. I think of how many little girls are sitting on hardwood kitchen floors, molding clay into dessert items – think of how many little girls are singing nursery rhymes under their breath.
I think of thousands of floors and thousands of piles of clay and thousands of nursery rhymes and thousands of girls. But as she looks away, focus broken by the specifics of cake-making, she murmurs my name, so quietly I barely catch it. I lean down to look at her, and she looks back at me like she’s surprised I heard her. She says my name again, smiling, and I’m almost sure my heart skips a beat. We are sitting in this kitchen, my form curled around hers, clay permanently stuck underneath my fingernails, with the sunlight making patterns against the warm floor: she is letting me be a part of this.
There may be thousands of girls. But in this moment, I am as much a part of her life as she is mine, and there is nothing quite as beautiful.