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On Daycare - Three Vignettes
I. On Construction
We are building a tower. With a tiny, eager hand you reach for a scuffed Styrofoam triangle; grasping it, you place it delicately on top of our nascent creation. Both of us pause tentatively and watch in apprehension as it teeters subtly, then relax simultaneously as it steadies. Funny how I still react the same way you do.
“What color should we use next?” I ask.
“Pink.” Pink is always your favorite. Leaning forward, you sneak a block from someone else’s pile, and, fully aware of your underhandedness, your wide blue eyes dart briefly towards me, questioning my approval. I pretend not to notice. Sitting down with a bump, you frown intensely and rest the rectangle on the top of the triangle with utmost care. Your frown deepens as it topples over—once, twice, three times.
“Try putting it underneath the triangle,” I suggest. You ignore me, determined. A fan hums dismally above us, causing the ribbon in your hair to quiver against the gentle curve of your pale neck. Cautiously I attempt to take the block from you and demonstrate what I mean.
“DON’T!” you loudly rebuke me, your cheek turned slightly in my direction and your forearm extended protectively, but your eyes still focused on the structure. Chastened, I quickly retract my hand and observe, intrigued, as you finally give up and reach over the tower for a different block. It collapses beneath you and instinctively you look up at me, scrutinizing my expression for some sort of response to your error.
“Uh-oh,” I say. “It’s ok—we’ll just rebuild it.”
“You too?” you ask.
The moment of question behind you, you proceed to destroy the remnants of the standing blocks with a lack of mercy that your mother would scold you for.
It’s just a tower. You can always rebuild it.
II. On Crayons
“What are you going to draw?” You ask.
“I don’t know yet,” I answer.
You dump the mish-mosh rainbow of crayons onto the scarred table while I do my best to squeeze my behind into a miniature chair, one of which you are now contentedly perched upon, a blank sheet of paper in front of you. Noncommittally, I select a random blue crayon and begin aimless doodling.
You peer over at me.
“What should I draw?”
“Whatever you want.”
“I’m gonna draw my family.”
I watch you spread the image across the page—the cheerful people whose round faces and careless strands of hair are stuck like lollipops on top of their stick-like bodies, and the red scribble-scrabble behind them, which I interpret to be some sort of confused version of the sky. You add a yellow sun and various, over-sized flowers at the subjects’ feet.
“Kay, done!” you announce.
“Tell me about it.”
“Well,” you begin, holding your masterpiece up the way your teacher does when she reads a story so that everyone can see the pictures, “That’s mommy, that’s daddy, and the one with the pink bow is me!”
“Why are all the people green?” I ask.
“I feel like it,” you explain. “Miss Robbins says that some people are black and some people are white, but my people are green!”
III. On Playground Antics
The thrilled shrieks of toddlers are carried across the easy wind as it rustles in the trees, and breaks the heat of the pleasant sunlight above the jungle gym. They chase each other in short, dogged steps, squealing as they touch the slide’s hot plastic surface. You sit next to me, your little legs swinging carelessly a few inches above the woodchip-covered ground. I lean forward slightly—and rather uncomfortably—to avoid being scratched by the bush sticking through the fence behind me.
“Can I do your hair, Miss Janie?” you murmur.
“Sure,” I say. You shift on to your knees and I feel your tender hand running through my hair, parting it unevenly and twisting and wrapping it in all sorts of creative directions. I close my eyes, savoring the warmth of the day, and I can hear your gentle little breaths behind my ear as you work. After a few minutes you give the top of my head a decided pat or two, and pronounce my look complete. You step down from the bench with care, so as not to trip, and stand in front of me.
“Can you do mine now?” comes your quiet, hopeful request. I sit you back on the bench and you squint in the light of the late afternoon. “Do a braid. The fresh kind.”
“You mean a French braid?” I ask, smiling.
I begin to weave your golden curls through one another and you start to sing some song of innocence in your soft, light voice.
“What are you singing?” I inquire.
“I don’t know,” you reply. A moment passes and you add, “Melissa doesn’t like it when I sing. She tells me to be quiet. Did you know that ‘be quiet’ is a bad word?”
I ponder this. “Why don’t you play with Melissa anymore?” I wonder.
You look down.
“She said only girls with brown hair are allowed to play with her in the sandbox.”
I raise my eyebrows, mildly disturbed.
“So what did you say to her?”
You give a little shrug.
“I didn’t say to her anything, ‘cause I like playing with you better.”
I am not sure how to respond to this, so I continue with your braid.
“I love you, Miss Janie.”
You say it so simply, it sounds like the easiest phrase in the world.
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'Love people. Cook them tasty food.' -Penzey's Spices