“I think this little girl wants to play, too,” I tell my children. Monkey obediently scoots back to make room, but as the interloper reaches for the toy, Chickadee starts telling her to sit back and watch, she will show her how it works. “Chickadee.” No response. “CHICKADEE. Please let her have it.”
“I’m just SHOWING her—”
“She can figure it out. Let her have it.” She ignores me, and puts her hand up to the offender once more, explaining that she will demonstrate. “Chickadee. NOW.” She turns over the toy but stands with a huff and a stomp and starts to leave. “Chickadee. Don’t leave, honey, just— Chickie. CHICKADEE!” She has tried to push past me and I grab her arm. She howls in indignation.
It is unfair, really. She’s been so good all day. There are a million people here and she’s been gentle and kind with the smaller children for hours. In fact, she cleaved to her youngest soon-to-be new cousin and doted on his every whim for longer than any other tween would’ve tolerated a rambunctious toddler. She has ducked her head and shyly remembered her manners with a dozen people who are very interested in her despite her only wanting to go and play or perhaps eat some snacks.
But this is typical; she is tired and a meltdown is imminent. While I want to avoid a scene, I also cannot let the rudeness and melodrama go unchecked. She is now flailing in my grasp and I am leaning down to eye level to quietly explain that she must get herself together or we will need to leave. She is still protesting, howling, and twisting.
Obviously we need to go.
“Okay, Chickie. Put your shoes on. Upstairs, now.” She flops down with her shoes, still carrying on and indignant. “Monkey, I’ll be back for you in a minute, okay? Please play nicely… I’ll be right back.”
I lead her up the stairs, around the bend, and out the front door—around a small group of people who are taking their leave—and stop in the driveway to face her. “What is going on?” She glares up at me.
“Nothing. You GRABBED me. That wasn’t nice! I don’t want to be grabbed!”
“Chickadee, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to grab you. I called your name and you didn’t stop, so then I did grab your arm to stop you. I didn’t want you stomping off like that; you scared that little girl and you were being rude.”
“Well YOU WERE BEING MEAN!” I tell you, hand to God, I never understood the phrase “if looks could kill” the way I understand it now that I have a daughter. She is furious.
“Chickadee. I don’t understand. We were having such a good day today. Why do you want to ruin it now at the end?”
Something flickers behind her glare and her face crumples. “I don’t knooooowww!” And now she is burying her head in my middle, sobbing, clinging to me, my little girl again.
“Alright, sweetie. I think you’re tired. Shall we get our things and go home and put you to bed?” She nods against me, relief seeping out of her, and I pick her up. I marvel again—as I so often do, these days—at how heavy she feels despite being all spindly gazelle legs.
We work out way back inside, and I find Otto to tell him that we need to leave. I am holding Chickadee, I have a purse and other items to collect, plus I need to go back downstairs to get Monkey. For a moment I cannot decide where to go or how to do this. I put Chickadee down on an armchair and she splays out looking pitiful, half-asleep and small again. I ask Otto to sit with her a minute. I lean down and ask her if she’d like him to sit with her, and she brightens.
I lift her up, he sits down, and she settles on his lap and leans against his chest. I want to stay and drink in this picture, but I have to go grab Monkey.
Once I find him again, he, too, is now tired and cranky. I pick him up and work my way back upstairs. Back to Otto again, I tell him I think we’re ready to go. He rises and gently sets Chickadee on the floor and asks if she wants to walk out to the car or be carried. She holds her arms up to him and in one scoop he has hoisted her up. She immediately lays her head on his shoulder and closes her eyes.
Both Otto and I work our way through what seems like a hundred people to say goodbyes and get outside to the car. The kids say goodbye when prompted, but they are clearly All Done with this particular outing.
My last stop before heading out the door is to give a quick hug to Otto’s mom, who holds me there next to her while watching Otto. My daughter is draped on him, and even as he quickly chats with others one arm holds and steadies her while his opposite hand strokes her back.
“You’ve brought out such a tender side of my son,” his mother whispers to me. I know theirs is a relationship that has not always been easy. She sounds a bit amazed, and I am, in turn, a bit startled by her surprise.
“He’s a good one,” I respond, smiling and readjusting my grip on my son while watching Otto shield Chickadee from each corner and person as he moves through the crowd. I want to say a million things: that I cannot take credit for his tenderness; that he has brought out more in me than I knew was still in there; that my ferocious little girl tends to command a depth of feeling that is itself surprising; that I am grateful for each click of our lives snapping into place together (even as I know that not all of those clicks will be easy ones); that I hope she will come to know that this is not something new in her son, but has been him all along.
It all catches in my throat, and I can only repeat, “He’s a good one,” as I give her arm a final squeeze and walk out into the night with my family.