I’ve spent so much of the last dozen years in near-constant company of children you’d think I find them quite unremarkable as companions; but in fact, they are a special type of experience to me, still. I often feel uncertain, and think I am supposed to be providing them more food, more cuddles, more baby-talk. However I have very little to offer on all these accounts – sometimes not much for my own little ones.
The girls visiting tonight are, as per usual, excited about our life and they explore it frankly. They are enamored of our home; they enjoy my mother’s property next door, with the witchy garden and koi pool and fire pit. They are excited our children do not go to school and they are enthusiastic about Nels’ lemonade stand (he spent all day out there; cheerfully greeting, pouring, mixing – and when alone, singing songs and saying, “I’m a winner!” to himself).
In the evening Ralph leaves for a meeting and the four children and I venture out to our favorite little walk along the harbor. Within a few moments the younger sister N. sits behind me on my bike, completely at-ease with a grownup she’s never met before. She has a wicked sense of humor, very dry – a lot like my daughter. She is pretty in a winsome, Scout-from-To-Kill-A-Mockingbird type of way. Her sister is a real beauty, clouded blue eyes and long lashes and dark hair falling across her clear brow. They are very composed little girls and quite game to shift bikes back and forth when we are joined by another child on foot, woefully protesting the unfairness of not owning a bike. Phoenix, for the first time, rides my X with Nels on the back while I carry N. I feel a sting of pride. A little later my daughter rounds a corner too fast and ditches the bike too, falls right over although she and Nels are very good at dumping bikes without being hurt. Phoenix gets up and dusts off. “It’s not a maiden voyage of an Xtracycle if you don’t fall,” I tell her cheerfully; she brightens up.
The children know where to look for animals hidden here and there in the hot, muggy wetland – we find all sorts of creatures, including many centipedes criss-crossing our path, a long-toed salamander (rare for our area of Washington), and a small nest of nubbly purple-pink rodents. The children entreat me to take photos with my phone although in the case of the little baby nest, I don’t want to get too close.
Back at home the visiting girls stay until the last possible moment before they’ll be late getting home. They keep asking about my sewing and my sewing room. Finally it occurs to me they might like some of Phee’s hand-me-downs. I step into the closet and begin pulling out this and that, garments my daughter has grown out of that haven’t found a new child. I hand over a few things then start straightening the hangers, lost a bit in preoccupied tallying of my children’s clothing needs. A moment later I turn to find one of the girls still standing, expectant, hoping for more magic to be pulled out of this dark and dusty little closet. The girls try on the garments and one of them, the older one, brightens up considerably at Phee’s leopard-print-and-lilac-rose dress. She changes into the frock then skates into the kitchen and twirls; the dress suits her even more than it did my daughter.
Giving clothes to children is funny. The kids have to like the clothes and then who knows if the parents will let them wear them. And then there are the unintentionally-comic requests; a friend of my daughter asked me to make her a Justin Bieber t-shirt. As if you can’t find one of those for $5 at Walmart! Still, I am gratified to think these particular garments will find another happy home. All told, the girls left with the Blue Dragon Egg Jacket, the Bleeding Heart Dress, the Rayon Tiered Leopard Dress, and Blue Goth.