The other day I declared that after work there would be no news or Facebook until bedtime. We were going to focus on the girls without the interruptions of work, chatting or anything else not strictly playing-together-on-the-floor related.
We closed the door and sat in the late afternoon sun that poured through the picture windows. The floor was a tapestry of magnetic doll arrangements, blocks, stuffed animals and books. Fin was standing at the play kitchen chucking plastic pots this way and that. Briar was sprawled on the couch with a V-tech laptop matching letters as she cradled a fiercely swaddled baby Snow White doll in her left arm. Ave was blinking with energy- her curls flipping back and forth as she repeatedly took stock of the room.
Jerking back and forth, occasionally climbing on Sean, she seemed confused by how best to enjoy this slice of undiluted family time.
“Hey, Ave? Why don’t you go get a puzzle? We can all do a puzzle together,” I said.
“A puzzle? All of us? Sure, I can do it!” And she ran from the room calling out every third step, “Everybody don’t move. I’ll get a puzzle and bring it. Don’t move!”
Sean and I laughed and waited for the thunderous roar as she rounded the corner from the carpeted living room to the kitchen’s hardwood floors.
“Just wait a minute. I’m coming everybody!” When she came in the room, a small Disney puzzle tucked under her right arm like a football, she had the look of victory upon her face. Eyes dancing, mouth wide open in a smile and dimpled fingers thrusting the puzzle overhead like a trophy, “I got it, now let’s do it.”
I was shocked she’d picked princesses over the alphabet, map and barn puzzles. “Jasmine?” I asked. “Yup,” she nodded her head and began prying open the box. We made quick work of setting the pieces out and arranging them face up in a rough circle. Briar slipped off the couch and joined us, with Fin fast behind her. What followed was a cross between puzzle making and sword fighting as we tried to keep Fin from eating the pieces, while refereeing the increasingly competitive older sisters.
After playing we made dinner and sat down to eat together. Each girl was on her best behavior, a reward for us having spent the time with them, no doubt. We followed up dinner with a giggle packed wrestling/dancing session and then headed up to bed. Since moving the girls into the same room, bedtime has become an event. Family toothbrushing, group pj selection, stories with turns on dad’s back, kisses and lotion, cuddles from mom, special toys for Fin. It doesn’t take any longer, but the intensity of their excitement and desire to be at the center can be volatile. On this night it was smooth.
Later, the girls all sleeping, Sean and I cuddled up on the couch. We floated between conversation and silence, a gentle, easy rhythm, the exertion of the workday and family play forgotten. My feet were up on the table when something caught my eye, an empty space. The shelf beneath the table holds two leather bins, the were gone. Looking further I was they were pulled out and on the floor just beyond the table. Odd.
Her eyes sparkled, and something passed across her face, a flash of emotion so bare it startled me. It was reverence and gratitude.
One of the bins had books, the other games and puzzles. The games were poking out, the two largest puzzles jammed together, stuck.
“Everybody don’t move!”
I curled my knees and looked through the table, the bins are easily a foot tall and 2 feet long, far too large to be manageable for a toddler.
The small box was tucked under her arm.
My eyes burned as I realized the story behind the bins. Ave, willfull, stubborn and soberingly independent, had done this. I pictured her barely controlled sprint into the room, the pulling and twisting to get the bins out. The red Melissa & Doug boxes so firmly wedged, too tight for dimpled fingers. She hadn’t come for help, hadn’t said a word, so focused to be able to connect us in an activity.
“I got it!”
I imagined that after a moment of frustration she’d actually decided that Jasmine would make Briar happier, that the lighter pieces would be easier for Finley, that moving faster would keep her from losing our attention. The empty space let by the bins had faint lines of dusty, not so much as to suggest the puzzles are never played with, but enough to make the lump in my throat choke me. My Ave.
I buried my face in Sean’s chest with a cry and murmured into his shirt, “Thank you. Thank you.” He held me and nodded as I pointed to the empty space. I know we’ll never be perfect, but I hope that we can keep the lines of dust faint.