She stands on the wooden floor, her eyes large and brimming with tears. I scoop her up and place her on the island.
“I don’t want you to come down after I sleep,” her voice quavers as she voices her fears. I press her close to me wondering how to reassure her that it does not matter once she is asleep. My hands automatically rub her back and she worms into my neck.
Laddu is growing up. She can reach the light switch, clamber on to the dining table and the kitchen island. She can help me unload the dishwasher and put away cutlery. She helps me turn down the quilts each morning after the rest of the family leave the house.
She is a ‘big gril’ in her own words except when she has to do away with diapers. She is a ‘baby’ again her own words when I explain to her why she should be okay sleeping by herself. She negotiates, reasons, throws tantrums and gets her way most of the time. She loves playing in the water during bath time. She loves riding her tricycle with her older sister’s Hello Kitty helmet. She loves dumping puzzle pieces on the floor and summoning me to help her do it. She plays a decent memory game. She squats on the kitchen floor while I work, playing by herself, talking to imaginary friends and doing a mean imitation of her dad cleaning the kitchen.
Ammu walks ahead of me at the grocery store, her shoulders droopy, her body language screaming resignation. She is tall for her eight years. Her shoulders straighten, her eyes brighten at the next store we are in as we pick out helmets to replace the ones they have outgrown. She favors a neon pink while her sister picks a gender neutral grey with reflectors. They sail away on the bikes when we get home circling the oval in front of our home with ease. In and out they zip past as I sit on a foldable picnic chair overseeing them. Their clothes have shrunk, the shorts riding up and the tank tops looking a little too snug. They are taller, their hair longer. All of the baby fat is gone, in its place a peek into the young girls they will grow into.
Each morning they leave in a flurry of activity for their camp at school. An extension of the school year, a bit of Math, some arts and a bit of reading, they claim as they come home each day with smiles to match. They retire each afternoon to their room, a Kindle Fire, My Little Pony headphones and a screen full of books, apps and games.
The summer is passing us by, one luxuriant day after another. We mark time by outgrown clothes, books they read with ease, shoes that once seemed to fit and attitudes that they have acquired overnight. They sass me, slam doors occasionally, sulk way too often and take a lot for granted. They still want their good night kisses, quilts tucked in nice and tight, hugs each morning. Once in a while, they will sit on my lap, do nosy rubs, lean into my ample frame and just stay.
Some nights like tonight, I sit under the ceiling fan and count the number of summers left until they are off to college and it hits me how rare these chunks in time are. If in the years past, I had wished for years to disappear and the children to grow up, I now wish for time to slow down, to let me savor my children while they are still little, to hold them a little tighter, a little longer before they run off.