Yesterday, after out-of-towning for five days we came home to an empty house. I went straight for the bedroom, dumping five canvas bags of clothes onto the floor at the foot of my bed before hauling ass to the bathroom to pee.
Archer immediately got to work on his Lego universe at the dining room table and Fable as she often does, disappeared. I emerged from the bathroom moments later, calling her name. I looked for her in the playroom, bedroom, kitchen to ask Archer if he'd seen his sister.
"No. She disappeared again. Will you help me build this ladder?"
The bedroom door was closed. I ever so slightly pushed it open, slowly revealing a little girl surrounded by clothes. My clothes. And shoes scattered around her like a crooked frame. One by one she pulled my shirts and dresses, skirts and bras over her head and stood in front of the mirror.
"Mama?" she asked herself.
"Mama?" she asked me when I pushed open the door and asked her what she was doing.
Caught in the act, she smiled at me, motioning me to come sit down, in her proud pile of my now-dusty, once-clean clothes. She handed me one of my dresses, a pair of shoes, draped a bra over my head.
"Ooooh!" she sang.
She wanted us to play dress-up together.
Fable is twenty-months old today. No longer a teen-monther learning to walk. No longer a baby sleeping against me at night. She carries her own purse around, sits at my feet and watches me apply lipstick, offering her face to my collection of brushes.
"Mine?" she asks.
She cradles her family of baby owls, pushes her cart full of stuffed penguins, eats corn-on-the-cob with feet dangling over the bench outside on the grass. She races up the ramp outside Archer's school when we go to pick him up and prefers to nap outside in her stroller, in the shade. She never took a pacifier, instead relying on my cheeks to rub with the back of her hand when she's tired. Or sad. Or afraid. She sits with her face against the window and watches the birds. She tucks her babies in every night before bed and kisses their cheeks.
"Just wait until she's a teenager," people say as she scurries down the sidewalks clutching her baby doll and purse full of empty makeup canisters.
And I'll admit, I used to be afraid of all that. Of daughters, especially what it might mean, raising ours here, in this town. Of the pressures and the gamblers and her dreams. Of being yelled at through slammed doors as shoes went missing from closets. Dresses stained from being borrowed - warning her of the dangers of her body. Keeping her young without keeping her from life. Having to choose between telling her the truth about my past or lying to her.
"I never tried drugs. I waited to have sex. My fingers are crossed behind my back."
It's hard not to think about all those things, watching my children grow. Her, especially. Maybe because I can relate to her being female. Maybe because she, more than anybody, helps me better understand my own past. My relationship with my mother, other women, myself.
There's so much time and so little all at once. But with Fable, I think much but worry little if at all. She is the cloud that carries me happily from one thought to the next, my bridge between days, the light and the sun and the smile to every face and every doubt and every fear I thought I had in the beginning.
For the last twenty-months, Fable has been my happy place. And that, no the matter, will not change.
The other day Archer told us, "When you picked Fable from the baby store, you picked the perfect baby sister for me."
"And the perfect daughter for me," I said, picking up, once again, after Fable and her trail of empty makeup canisters and stuffed penguins. A dozen lipsticks open, smeared all over the mirrors.
And her, making the slowest getaway of all time, tripping down the hall in a fit of giggles, clad in a pair of my shoes.