“Can I towel myself off?”
“Can I put Aveeno all by myself?”
“Can you help me with my shirt?”
“Can you warm this pasta up?”
“What did you pack for lunch today?”
“Can I have some chutney please?”
This girl of mine is exceedingly polite. She says sorry and thank you. She asks for permission and waits politely until it is granted. She argues to make her case. She raises her voice when words don’t seem enough. She crosses her arms, turns her face away from me and cries a river when she is mad.
This past year has been all about spurts. She has been growing literally and metaphorically. Her vocabulary is impressive and her ability to use words appropriately even more so. She parrots what she sees on television. She watches her sisters like a hawk and emulates them in ways I could not have foreseen.
She sings to herself, her beanie boo a pretend mic. She croons, shakes her mane of dark, wavy hair and shakes her body to the music. She raps, she draws, she doodles. She carries her blue writing pad personalized with butterflies and her name everywhere. It stocks paper, pencils, eraser, crayons and a sharpener. She sets up shop on the floor while I struggle on the elliptical. She leans on me when I nap, working away on images of donuts and pizzas.
She talks in her sleep, grinds her teeth and sucks her thumb. She is the picture of innocence as her lashes flutter and sleep lulls her. She cuddles, she hugs, she vocalizes her love for the people in her life.
She is connecting the dots about the strange makeup of our family. She is figuring out her race and its connection to fitting in. She refuses to take rice to school while her sisters have no qualms doing so. She wants to belong. She wants to have friends. She loves being serenaded. She demands gifts. She hoards castaways from her sisters play in her room. She religiously reminds me not to tell anyone about her stash.
She is sneaky. She breaks a mirror, picks up the pieces and hides them away. When I ask, she fudges telling me straight out she cannot answer so I should not ask. I persist anyway and find broken pieces of the mirror in her play tent. We talk about safety. We talk about actions and consequences. I know she understands.
She peeks outside the door each morning waiting for her Chithi’s gift of LEGOs to arrive. When it does, she feels vindicated. She walks around all day clutching the box to her bosom. We work on it, her and I, at the dining table with the light streaming in from the windows and my Amma on the speakerphone. I follow directions. She makes her own creation as she calls it. I give up after a while and tell her that Akkas will help in the evening. She is reluctant. She also sees a losing battle when it is one.
She now stands on tiptoe and washes her hands at the kitchen sink, her entire body trembling with effort. She runs to the potty, turns the light on and remembers to close the door every single time. She amazes me, this little one with her strong sense of privacy and ownership over her body.
We walk around our home each morning, long after her dad and sisters are out. We walk hand in hand, sometimes in silence, sometimes with her clear voice chattering about momentous things.
“I will miss you when I am in school Amma.”
“I will be in Ms. F’s class and I am sure I will like it.”
“I can’t wait to go on the bus with Akkas.”
Her statements are definite. Her sense of identity rooted in something deep. She belongs and it shows.
In the early weeks after I pulled her out of preschool, I would sit with her and work on the alphabet, numbers and sight words. With time, we have settled into a lazy routine of an occasional writing exercise. Her alphabets are now mirrored images as are her numbers. We play word games as we walk or eat.
“Spell sky, I say”
“S-K-I” she figures eventually sounding each letter out. She pauses for a long time with vowels. I tell her it is S-K-Y and we have a discussion on why SKY and SKI are pronounced differently.
I love spending time with her, watching her brain process things I say. I have the luxury of having raised two older sisters to know that it is important that she is having fun learning. If raising her sisters was an exercise in comparing their progress with age-based milestones, raising her is a different experience, one tempered with knowledge and wisdom that comes from struggles.
She is now registered for kindergarten. We will spend this last summer before school soaking in the slow, unhurried mornings and the luxurious afternoon naps. Then, as fall comes around, I will stand at the bus-stop sending her off with nary a tear in my eye.
Happy birthday my darling! You will always be my Laddu.