She walks ahead of me, her plump calves pumping up and down on the concrete pavement. Her princess boots click each time they hit the ground. Her white dress swishes around her. Tendrils escape her ponytail and the band holding her hair has sagged, relaxing its hold. She turns around to check if I am following and spies a chrysanthemum by the side. The flowers are growing wild, the first signs of spring in the area. She bends down to pick one and I ask her to hold off.
I rush to the car, dump her lunch bag and grab my phone. I take pictures of her crouching by the flowers, caressing them and repeating “beeyootiful” over and over. We walk back to the car, content to let the sunshine wash over us on a beautiful spring day.
She insists on getting her jacket and shoes off herself and I watch as she struggles resisting my urge to help. “I did it!” her exuberance is catching and I find myself doing a little jig with her. She watches Mickey Mouse as I feed her the rest of her lunch and she pouts as I turn the TV off. We walk upstairs, me eager for a nap and she, reluctant. She plays with her doll on the floor while I lie in silence staring at the ceiling. At some point she crawls into bed next to me. Her stubby fingers are on my cheek. “Mummy-Amma, Mummy-Amma” she says and giggles. “Baby-kutty, Baby-kutty” I respond and we dissolve into a fit of giggles.
The alarm goes off indicating the school bus will be here in a few minutes. I slide off the bed taking care not to wake her. I turn and her voice rings out clear as a bell. “Hold me. Pick me,” she instructs. I comply happily.
Her sisters are hard at work on their homework. She demands a paper and pencil. I turn to them and her voice is insistent. “I need your help,” she says mimicking her sisters. The paper is full of squiggles. “That’s a square, that one is a rectangle…” She points to different scribbles naming shapes only she can see. I am overcome with affection too large to hold inside. I scoop her off her seat and press her close to me. Ammu and Pattu walk over and we make a Laddu sandwich. She squeals in glee.
She is sullen as I set her in the bathtub. “I don’t want to kuli,” she repeats. She tries to escape as I return with a brush to tie her hair. I trap her between my legs and she breaks out into a magnificent tantrum. She stomps, rolls on the dirty tub and eventually turns to me with a tear streaked face holding back sobs. I stifle my laughter and stare back at her solemnly. She caves in and goes on to enjoy her bath. I towel her dry and lift her up. “You forgot the Aveeno,” she reminds me. She stands still as I anoint her with the thick cream. Her lashes curl lusciously. Her skin is dewy and soft. She looks delicious, all two and half feet of her.
“You drive too fast I think, “ she comments from her car seat as I slow to a stop at the light. “You think?” I repeat. She nods. I turn left at the light. “Go sclow,” she reminds me. “I am going slow,” I say. She does not seem to agree. We banter back and forth and she suddenly requests that I turn the radio on. Ed Sheeran croons and her little body sways, she lip syncs to the lyrics. Fight song she requests and I tell her radio does not work that way. She is ready to scream when I stop in front of her school. Her mood changes to light from dark and with it mine.
In the one year since her last birthday, she has learned to eat off a plate, do everything herself, talk in complete sentences and ask a million whys. She has grown taller, leaner and lost some of the baby look. She is excessively polite when she sees her teachers remembering to wish them Good Morning each day. She clings to me at the slightest hint of a cold or fever. She snuggles with her sisters each night before bed refusing to go sleep in her room. She follows them to the basement most days holding her own against kids five years older than her. She loves music, grooves to most numbers and has favorites. She enjoys Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, Elena and Sofia. She loves dresses and dressing up. She smiles with her eyes just like her thatha. She smiles and her face transforms. She is headstrong, willful and way more difficult to handle than her sisters at that age. She is a power packed bundle, all child, all joy and pure radiance. She is three years old. This little light of mine.