I took Annie to see Annie (1982) today. Her first movie in the movie theater. She did great. Ate an entire small popcorn by herself, down to the kernels. Sat rapt in the seat, elbow-deep in that popcorn bucket, pushing down with her legs while the seat cushion threatened to pop back up. The second half she spent in my lap, and fell asleep once, during the Easy Street song—grown-up stuff. She was attentive and polite through the whole adventure, and saved the questions for the way home.
Why didn’t Annie have a mom and dad?
Why was she all alone?
How do we die?
On the way home from school today, Annie told me that houses start with blue paper. Blueprints, she meant, of course. It led to a conversation about architects, and who they are and what they do. I told her I was working with an architect at work—maybe our first genuine exchange about what I do at my job. Cool.
During our elaborate bedtime routine, she asked if grown-ups cried, and when I told her yes, she asked what made them cry. (“When Dad takes your things?” she suggested.) We talked about learning what to do with your feelings, and how that takes practice and grown-ups have done a lot of practicing, and that people are more important than things, and all sorts of good stuff. Then she held my hand and said, “I’m happy right now,” and I melted into the floor.
To Paul: this is what happened the day you turned 1 year and 11 months old.
You wake up in your tent in a chilly Denver basement. You’ve got your stuffed dog, though, a warm burrow of blankets, and Annie to talk to through the mesh wall, so you’re a happy camper until I come downstairs to greet you at 7. We’ve stayed the night at an old friend’s house before we fly home from our week in Colorado.
The house is full of exciting toys, which you take full advantage of—pushing, riding, swinging, inflicting minor damage, and trying to follow Annie’s elaborate games of make believe.
By coincidence, our friends Sarah, Bartow, and May live less than a mile from my own first home, where Granddad, Susu, and I lived until I was a little bit younger than you are now. I’ve never been back, so of course we must stroll over there, with a pit stop at Starbucks for a croissant and a little get-out-and-walking for both you and Annie.
We turn off of Memory Lane and head to the playground at a big park near their home. You swing and run and spend some quality time in a tunnel. We head back to the Harris’ for a yogurt pop and goldfish crackers (lunch), then cross our fingers and put you both down for an 11am nap, in hopes you can squeeze in an hour of sleep before we leave for the airport.
At noon, we extract you both, sleeping and groggy, fold up your tents, and buckle you into the car. All goes reasonably smoothly at the airport. You stay in good spirits and manage to work in some romping, climbing over the luggage and chasing Annie around an empty row of airport seats. You are glued to the window for some time, watching the planes taxi in and out, and announcing, “AIRPANE! ONE AIRPANE! DOS AIRPANES!” As Dad is explaining to you that he is taking your dog for a minute because you threw it, and he’ll give it back, but you mustn’t throw it again, we run into the head of the UT Child Development Center. We are pleased to be caught in a moment of at least semi-responsible parenting.
We board the plane. I’ve got to tell you that you are not my favorite fellow traveler at this moment in your life. Nothing holds your attention for more than a few minutes, and you broadcast your fierce feelings and desires at a volume that makes me wonder whether airplane designers intentionally leave the cabins noisy to mitigate the effects of toddler boys. We keep you mostly placated with a stream of snacks, letting you climb all over us, and unlimited tablet time. Your gaming skills are low, but your appreciation for 100 rounds of “Wheels on the Bus” is quite high.
We make it to Austin, haul you out of the airplane, gather our many, many bags and accouterments, and straggle to the car. It’s good to be home, even if it’s 97 degrees.
You think so, too, joyfully reuniting with house and possessions. You eat frozen peas and drink ice water in the kitchen tower for dinner. We sponge you down at your bathroom sink and get you into fresh clothes. You and Annie pick separate Mercy Pig books to read in separate laps; your selection is the one in which Mercy goes to the movies and eats everyone’s popcorn. The lap is mine. Dad and I finish our books almost in unison, and as we start the lullaby, you hop up to turn on the noise machine. You flop happily into your crib, demand a “PAT!” (some tummy rubbing) and “BANKET!” (your blanket on you, even though it’s still 83 degrees inside). The moment we leave the room, you are out like a light.
To Annie: this is what happened on the day you turned 3 years and 3 months old.
You wake up in the kids room at Gamma and Gobka’s Colorado casa. Rosie and Max have already rolled out of their bottom bunks, and you and Paul chatter to each other in your pack-and-plays until I come and lift you out. It’s the fifth day of our visit, and Uncle Jeff, Max, and Rose are getting ready to leave. You are sad about this.
We come upstairs for a breakfast of yogurt and fruit, but Totoro is playing on the TV, and its tractor beam sucks you into a screen coma for 20 minutes before you make it to the table. Breakfast finally achieved, you do a little cuddling and romping, and then it’s time to say goodbye to our cousins.
You and I head out for a walk around the neighborhood. You start a little whiny (“I’m TIRED from WALKING”) but we persevere, picking daisies and listening to birds. That description sounds a little more idyllic than the reality, which involves quite a bit of distracting you from your desire to be carried.
Back at the casa, we read books and play with blocks, then load up in the car for a trip to the playground in downtown Winter Park. You climb and walk on ledges and check out the other children.
We head back for lunch: peanut butter sandwiches and milk. Your sandwich-eating technique is to blaze a trail straight through the center, frosting your cheeks with crumbs and peanut grease. You have loved sharing a bedroom with Max and Rosie, and at naptime have been sleeping in Rosie’s bottom bunk. I get you tucked in there and read you your favorite local book, a Cherokee legend on the origin of the Milky Way (a dog stole some food—wonder why this resonates?). We snuggle a little longer, and you ask me a stream of questions. “What happens if water spills from the top bunk? What are thumbs for? Does our home have string? What’s inside the bed?” I finally extract myself, and you seem to sleep.
It’s a good nap. We see you again a couple of hours later. Paul sleeps on, so you have us to yourself. We sit on the back porch and watch the hummingbirds, and you abscond with my kindle to turn all the pages and thoroughly lose my place. We do a little reading together and building with blocks. Paul wakes up and joins us.
Dad and I head off for a date night. You watch the end of Totoro, a bit of Moana, and a PJ Masks episode. For dinner, you have a bit of chicken, request and do not eat tomatoes, and reject thawed peas in favor of still-frozen ones. Afterward, it’s playtime a little longer, and then you walk Gobka carefully through the process of putting on your nighttime diaper. He does an excellent rendition of the story about cornmeal and the Milky Way. You make sure everyone has socks, and go to sleep.
At 10:00, you are fast asleep when I sneak into your room and scoop you out of bed, whispering to you to be quiet. I carry you out onto the patio and lay down on a blanket to look up at the bright stars in the clear dark sky. I don’t think you’ve ever seen them before. In your tiny nighttime voice:
“Why is it so dark?”
“Because it’s the middle of the night.”
“Does Paul know it’s dark?”
Brighter than the stars are the headlights of cars on the highway, and those are what catch your eye.
“Mom, why are people still driving to their homes or other places?”
“Because it’s nighttime, and time for people to go home to their families if they can.”
“Why do some people not go home to their families?”
“Well, they may have other things to do. We’re lucky to be together with our family.”
“I love Gamma and Gobka, and Granddad and Susu. We haven’t seen Granddad and Susu in a long time!”
We talk for a little while, and sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at your request. You ask to go back to bed, so I take you there. You snuggle back down, and go back to sleep.