She runs and I behind her, her anticipation of being caught lending itself to squealing. We collapse in a heap on the floor, snorting, laughing and catching our breath. She holds a tiny lantern. A piece from a camping set the twins assembled upstairs for their toys.
“On!” she demands and I comply.
She sets off again, the tiny lamp dangling from her stubby fingers as she climbs the stairs propelling herself by sheer will. I look at the mound of clothes on the table and sigh knowing it will stay there another day.
We read a book, she jumps on my tummy, we sing the ABC song, we count from one to twenty. By the time it is 2:00 PM, I am exhausted. I crave a shut eye. We hop on my bed and I hold her close as I try to sleep. She burrows her head into my chest and tugs at my earlobes making sleep impossible. I drift in a state of semi wakefulness until the alarm reminds me that Ammu and Pattu will be home in 15 minutes. I scramble off the bed, scoop the child up and adjust the comforter.
In a few minutes, Laddu’s face is scrubbed, her short hair in spiky pigtails and tears leave streak marks down her cheeks. We head downstairs and I set a pot of water for tea. She runs to the window, pressing her face to the glass for a glimpse of the school bus as it passes our home. She waits till it leaves our development and heads over to the other door to wait for her sisters. Without fail, they troop in and hug and kiss her and leave a trail of jackets, scarves and gloves as they wash up and wait for their milk and snacks.
The three sit at the island working with paper and pencils. A fragile silence prevails only broken by the sounds of pencil scratching on paper. Each day is a variation of the same routine. The changes are subtle until they are glaring one day. Laddu’s vocabulary has grown in bounds. She is willful often stomping her feet and banging her head on cabinet doors to get her way. Her TV watching preferences are definite these days. “ABCs” she demands when she is in the mood for Mother Goose Club rhymes. “Monkey!” she declares when she wants Curious George. Today she graduated to Daniel Tiger.
She croons along when her sisters sing. “Paata” she pleads as she pokes around in my roomy PJ pockets for my phone. I give in and play Hindi songs and she grooves, her diapered butt swaying in time with the music.
I busy myself in the kitchen, washing rice and lentils only to stumble on her as she sneaks up to me in silence. I close the cooker to see her hold out the bottle of lime juice. Something she has seen me do each day. She reminds me to turn the lights out when I leave a room. She asks for her lip chap before bed and reminds me to take my vitamins.
It is hard to remember she is still under two. She has a presence that is larger than life and she fills the space unlike anyone else I have known. I savor the two hours in the morning when she naps only to smile as I hear her stirring. I remind myself to soak this all in before the day arrives when she will be off, a backpack bouncing on her back.