The Small Space

Dear Sylvie,

It was a hard afternoon. Your mother was in the shower, fighting through a quiet illness that made her face tingle and the rest of her numb; we were getting ready to head to Bellevue to get your haircut redone, then groceries, then dinner, then bed. It was two in the afternoon and it was also eight in the evening, the two points merged through a chain of irreversible events that had and hadn’t happened yet.

I could barely keep my eyes open, I was so exhausted. I had to lie down on the couch, and you brought your little Moana blanket to lay over me, but there could be no rest. Your brother was crying: crying over the absence of his mother, crying about the tooth that will stay rooted below the gumline until after he’s off to college, crying about the general unfairness of being two years old, the things he wants and cannot have, cannot chew on. You grew listless, wanted to play with your dolls. You would be baby Jasmine and I could be Chang, and beyond that the plot was pretty much my responsibility. It was the fourth time we had played dolls already that day, and I was out of storylines.

Instead we played hide-and-seek with my phone, usually a fine way to spend ten minutes. Only, once it was your turn and you hid it, you decided you were done with the game, and simply wouldn’t tell me where it was. You’d hit the magical point of childhood, akin to that seventh-beer spot of drunkenness, when business simply closed. You were done. I asked you where the phone was, growing irritable, and you just told me you didn’t remember. Felix continued to cry. I asked again, told you it wasn’t funny anymore, and you refused to answer.

Finally, Felix grabbed something small and edible, a toy of yours left a little too close to the edge of the table, and you shrieked at him and pulled it out of his hands. It was enough. “We don’t take things out of his hands or he learns to take things out of your hands,” I said, for the hundredth time, but your gaze was elsewhere. I told you in that voice that isn’t shouting but is firm enough that it doesn’t really matter: go upstairs and calm down. You marched away, slamming the infant gate behind you as I buried the screams of the toddler into my neck.

At midnight, after my work was done and we had brought a screaming Felix downstairs to dose with Motrin, I crept through the darkened house to go to sleep. I slipped into the bedroom and around the bed to my side. There on the floor, nestled between the bed and the patio window, I found a pillow and a little Moana blanket. I imagined you hiding from me there, crying, and I cried.

Then I went to sleep, because I had to.


an update:

I posted this, and then my mother read it to Sylvie at home. She listened, and then clarified: “I left the Moana blanket bed for you to use, in case you took off your sock and got cold.”

I guess in some ways she’s a step ahead of me.