Dinner with my parents at our favorite Indian restaurant. She naps in the car on the way over and, in her drowsed state, clings to me so hard it takes fifteen minutes to get her into a seat. All through dinner, she clings to my arm. I am released for only a few minutes when I hand her my wallet. She pulls out my driver’s license and stares at the picture of me. Lately, I am favored above all others – human or animal. I know this will change, but for now it is as endearing as it is overwhelming.
We order her a mango lassi, she disdains the portion we poor into her spill-proof child’s cup, but grips the base of the goblet with vengeance and – thrilled by an open glass with a straw and her favorite drink – sucks most of the rest down in a few minutes that seem like one long draught.
Soon, she feels the ticklings of an unseasonably warm November breeze. Her mother takes her outside and, for a few quiet minutes, I finish my meal. Temporarily second place to good weather.
The check is paid (my parents are celebrating the sale of their house and our meal is free tonight) and we saunter outside, but saunter isn’t really in her vocabulary. She dashes down the steps delighting in the city night. We haven’t been out with her in the city at night in months. The last time, she was in a stroller – a passive observer – but the stroller is no longer tolerated and she has never had agency quite like this.
She hugs her grandparents, kisses them, and dashes off down the sidewalk. It’s all I can do to keep up with her and keep her from veering toward the busy street. She is normally timid about noise, but tonight, she delights in the evening hum of the traffic and the patter of passing pedestrians. Everything is new. The darkness, the noise, the jeweled lights, the soft evening breeze. At each shop she stops. An antique store is all alight. She roars with laughter at the lamps and furniture and knickknacks. She points and looks at us to make sure we are looking to. No one, I can see her think, should miss this. A book store’s door sits open – it might not be this warm again until spring – and she stands before it. She wants to rush in – I can see it – grab things off the shelves, toss them in the air, laugh.
I shuffle her past and around the corner. She spots the moon, nearly full with a halo reflecting off the clouds, and laughs again. Again she points – Mom, dad, do you see it? Do you see it? Look how neat. Look how beautiful.
She charges again down the sidewalk – we’re on a quieter street now and I’m less afraid of traffic. There is a slope where the sidewalk has been repaired. She runs down, turns around, and does it again, laughing the whole time.
Around the last corner, she spots a big, fluffy dog and bolts (an awful lot of bolting tonight) toward it. I go to hold her back, but she seems satisfied with having had a closer look and stops before I can really do much of anything.
As we cross the street to the car, she holds my hand because that is what big girls do, and then runs back and forth – back and forth – on the sidewalk near the car. She knows it’s time to go. Time to climb in the car and head home to bed – she’s already up past her bedtime. But she wants to hold on for a minute. Eventually, she climbs up into her seat and we play a brief game. I tap on the rear window from the outside, she taps from the inside.
Finally, she is strapped in and guzzling mango lassi from her spill-proof cup (better than no lassi at all, I guess). On the drive home she points at the moon. When we pull into the driveway and I lift her from the car, she points at a star then spots the moon again. We stare at it for a moment, then she waves goodbye as we head in.
Soon, she is asleep and I hope her dreams are joyous.