Angela Amman

Playing pretend

pretend play He’s waited for her to be done with school since mid-May, though I’d be lying if I said “waited patiently.” Practically the moment she emptied her backpack for the last time as a first grader, they began the complicated dance of adoring each other and needing space from each other, often within the same 30-second time frame.

She’s the cruise director in their relationship, and this is the first summer he’s pushed back against her detailed ideas about what they should do and where and for how long. Unsure how to deal, histrionics ensue. Separation is futile, because they circle each other like planets; their relationship has its own gravity.

Pretend play often provides the only common ground.

Her imagination has always crafted worlds in which they’ve escaped, but now that he makes a conscious effort to build his own narrative around hers, they’re making magic. Even during a trip to IKEA they easily fell into a multi-layered game where the little staged apartments and patios became soap opera sets.

I marvel recently, shocked at how much easier certain things are becoming. When I needed to load bar stools onto one cart, they helped push the one I’d filled with those nonsensical things picked up in IKEA aisles — LED light bulbs that may or may night be the right size, two more RIBBA frames, note cards — even though the carts do that weird thing where they can move in all directions instead of just backward and forward. There was only a pushed out lip instead of tears when I denied the fervent plea for more stuffed animals to add to their menagerie. Our post-shopping $1 cones only required napkins and a wet wipe instead of a bath.

Not everything is easier, of course.

Worries are bigger, and tempers flare over unexpected things.

Still, when we got home and I realized those purchased bar stools were the tall version when I needed the shorter ones, Abbey knew where to find the packing tape so I could reseal the boxes. She held the flap while I taped, her brow furrowed in thought.

Minutes later, their heads were touching as they whispered and bustled, and a puppet theater arose. The antics of the duck and the grasshopper, freshly borrowed from the library and unestablished in personality, were haphazard and nonsensical. Laughter bubbled between the three of us, pulling us together and lessening the tension of the added task of exchanging the stools.

Pretend play might save us all.

pretend play

Beach day

summer weather The Thursday before school got out for summer vacation, the kids were invited to participate in Beach Day. Armed with sunnies, a hat, and her favorite Frozen towel, my girl was in her element.

Her words tumbled over each other when she returned home. They read on their beach towels, which is absolutely my type of beach day and the exact type in which I haven’t indulged much since having kids.

We’ll have to wait a little longer for an actual beach day. Rain invaded sometime this weekend and hasn’t relented. The periods of time when drops aren’t falling mean the air is heavy and damp with trapped moisture.

I don’t mind the humidity, the way my muscles warm quickly during a run, the sheen on my skin that dances between sweat and the air itself. I’m in the minority, though, even in my own house.

We’ve turned on the air conditioner in hopes of keeping some of the dampness at bay. I relented when the medical forms I printed began rippling and curling within minutes of sitting on my desk. I don’t want to have to wash the hand towels several times a day.

The kitchen tiles are cool, and I find myself shrugging on a sweater in the house and making excuses to take random paper to the recycling bin in the garage. I linger there, breathing in the heat that promises summer weather is coming to meet us. We’re ready, with sunnies and hats and towels, and the certainty that soon we’ll have beach days to spare.

Flashlights and lists

the end of the school yearOnly a few more lunches to pack, but a million and seven things to remember before school ends this Friday. Since preschool finished in mid-May, I’ve been white-knuckling my way through this last month. Dylan reminds me, almost every five minutes, that life is more fun if we’re playing together, and I haven’t completed a coherent sentence or thought in weeks.

Creative writing is out of the question; I work until late in the night, trying to decompress and meet deadlines, a combination that lends itself to confusion and lots of list making.

My lists have lists. Seriously. Spotted on my list today: make packing list and make shopping list.

I always love a good list, scrawled in colorful markers in my favorite notebook, but they’re becoming a matter of survival to the Darwinianth degree. If I don’t write it down when I think it — and “it” can be “make doctor’s appointment” or “buy milk” or “anything less automatic than breathing” — I’m likely to forget it before moving into the next room.

This morning, I used half my brain to cobble together the proposed steps for the day, scribbling quickly before my words plunged into darkness.

(Literal darkness, not metaphorical darkness. The kids are obsessed with reading by flashlight, ever since the first grade had “flashlight day,” a day which required a 10:00 p.m. trip to Meijer, since I hadn’t written “check flashlight batteries” on my daily list last week.)

In between list making and lunch packing, we researched LEGO Superhero sets online. Questions arose, as they do around LEGO sets, as to how some of the mini-figs can be in a variety of “places” at once. My eyes wandered to the growing list of things to do between now and Friday, and I wondered the same thing about myself.

They ate Lucky Charms balanced with a few almonds, and I reached for lip gloss before walking to school to balance my ninth consecutive day of workout clothes. Rain beat against our umbrellas, the kind of warm, summer drops that seep back into the humid air; we walked, her first grade hand clasped in mine, and for a few moments I couldn’t think of a single thing to add to my list.

the end of the school year

Watching her make her own time

dancing on the porch The dress hung in her closet most of last spring, through the summer, and into the fall. The umbrellas, she explained, weren’t her favorite. I’d purchased it a little large, and I left it on the hanger until it became an item in her closet I saw without seeing.

She pulled it out the other day, declared it the perfect dress — comfortable, with adorable umbrellas, just right for spring when you never know when it will rain. She tap danced on the porch in patent leather shoes with worn soles, and I felt my heart twist a little as I watched her legs lengthen before my eyes, making the dress almost too short.

She can wear it with shorts until she finds another favorite.

We used to read a book regularly, Ruby In Her Own Time by Jonathan Emmet, about a little duckling who meets milestones and chases dreams on a schedule unlike that of her brothers and sister. She’s unconcerned with the expectations of the people — well, ducks — around her, and my girl has always reminded me of that sweet little duckling.

I can remind her to practice her dance routines a million times, and she finds a million and one reasons not to do it, but I’ll find her counting time and running through steps while I’m making dinner.

We’ve talked about writing spelling words to help cement them in her mind, and she’s resisted until this morning, a month before school is finished for the year, when she declared, “Writing the words is probably the best way for my brain to learn the way they look.”

She wears tutus to field days but pulls on cozy fleece pants when I expect her to wear something fancy.

Reminders about expectations don’t reach her ears, or they lodge somewhere between stubbornness and giggling distraction. Mothering a daughter with stubborn tendencies, when you have them yourself, is an intricate dance I’m far from mastering. I trip over my feet, and I try to untangle the frustration from my words.

I grit my teeth some days: my shoes often litter the floor of my closet, though we’ve talked about putting them back if she wants to play in there; her personal stash of craft materials languishes, untouched, while my printer paper diminishes by the day; she remembers to ask permission for the stapler, the tape, the Sharpies, only after she’s almost finished with whatever project she’s dreamed up for the moment.

Her time, her methods, her thought process flutter out of my reach those days. I try, and I will continue to try, to breathe and to listen. To hear her words, whether they’re spoken in a whisper into my ear or danced with joy in the living room, or pressed into my palm with small fingers that still need to be held and kissed and reminded that I will be here to hold that hand for as long as she needs.

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