"Thank you for being so agreeable about going to Ann's this afternoon," I said to her over hot dogs at Costco. She'd burst through the door, dragging her little pink-and-purple backpack behind her, while I was on the phone with my boss, Julie. I'd shushed her and sent her to the neighbor's house -- the neighbor I pay to watch her, but my girl doesn't seem to understand the business relationship most days. She'd wanted to stay, wanted to play I Spy on the cantankerous old Gateway as she had last night, as I propped my work laptop against hers and felt my heart grow three sizes to see her tapping away, just like her mama.
Julie waited patiently as I shooed the little angel back out into the winter wind.
And so here we were, Beloved, the little angel and me, sharing a salad and some wrap thing and a hot dog, at Costco, as though doing so were not just a little bit surreal. Eating dinner while surrounded by pretzel packaging large enough to house Third World countries is a little odd.
"Daddy asked if he could read to me, since I was so agreeable," she said.
"Well, then I get to do cat shows during bath time."
We have these plastic zoo animals bought years ago at the KC Zoo. They came in a plastic tube, I recall, so they looked like more than what they were. Cost more than what they were, too, if I remember correctly, but since then they have been rebirthed in a bizarre bathtime game of Dead Pets in Cat Heaven. So far we have my cats Sybil and Bella, my sister's cat King, Julie's cat Leonard and Erin's not-yet-dead-cat (sorry, Erin), Murphy. I thought Murphy was going to die a few months ago and added him too soon to the mix, so to even things out, we threw in Petunia, my cat who is very much alive and sitting next to me right now. Petunia is a lioness, Leonard is a zebra, Sybil is a leopard, Bella a tiger, Murphy a hippo and King a rhino. We don't include Denise's prairie dogs, because these are cat shows. But we still watch them on YouTube.
It makes sense to us, this little family drama.
Tonight the cats were playing Little Angel Trivia, in which they tried to correctly answer questions about the little angel's life. King missed an easy one about the first color we'd painted the little angel's room. Murphy biffed a question about the little angel's age, but then again, he didn't really know her all that well when he joined the group. Sybil brought down the house when she correctly answered a babyhood bonus question to which not even the little angel knew the answer. But then again, Sybil was indeed there when the little angel was a baby.
(I realize you are hiding your children from me right now.)
As we played Little Angel Trivia, I felt happy the little angel doesn't question that both her parents want -- in fact compete -- to spend time with her. Sure, some days there is still work to be done or the day has been just exhausting, but it's true -- when I stop and think about it, I want to be a contender to read her stories or make up tall tales about stupid plastic animals bought years ago at the zoo as an afterthought. I want her to know how much I love her, how much I want to be with her, even when I have other adult things that need to be done. If the stories I create are a bit bizarre, they are our stories, made up of our history and my friends and jobs so that when the little angel busts in on a conversation between Julie and me, she knows who Julie is, that Julie had a cat named Leonard, who makes a special guest appearance in the bathtub every once in a while. That if I have to work late, the little angel knows the players, knows what we are trying to do, knows that I consider this work of shedding light on women's voices important, but not more important than the privilege of playing with her, of reading to her.
I will remember many things about these days, but most of all, I will remember the smile on her face as she watches her parents mock debate over who gets to read to her.