Jul 16, 2007

Sleeping Beauty

There's something about the moment that Piper falls asleep. It's one of the best feelings in the world. And not just because I spend the entire day being so challenged by her. I think I even said I hate her out loud today, to my friend Rana while we sunbathed on the deck.

Piper had come up to me with a tiny plastic jug of coffee milk--something she shouldn't have been able to get by herself--and something that she probably shouldn't even be drinking--two things I was willing to overlook since her rummaging around for it had bought me the fifteen minutes of uninterrupted peace outside in the first place. She asked if she could drink some and I said sure!--happily forgiving the fact that she was going to drink straight from the jug. I aimed my face back up at the sun and closed my eyes, smiling into the warmth. Glug glug...pause...Glug glug...pause. Then, shake-a shake-a shake-a


Cold sticky milk dropped all over my left side--soaking, sticking. I was furious. I hate her I seethed (under my breath, but still...) in the direction of Rana. I glared at Piper-got up--and stormed away to clean up.

Later in the car time stood still while we awaited Piper's decision on where to sit-which meant that anyone of the other children might have to be reshuffled to her satisfaction. Three year old Sudoku. Has to be next to her sister, has to be in the booster seat, has to be on the same side as the llama we'll drive by has to be...and so on and so forth.

Then she had a complete meltdown in the lakeside restaurant we'd chosen for dinner. Happy families dined peacefully at picnic tables overlooking a marina of sorts. Seagulls held court atop big posts and sloped tin rooftops, cars ootched up at angles on the gravel lot. Butter-colored sunset beyond the trees.

When her brother wasn't done with the blue marker at the exact moment she needed him to hand it to her Piper began to fuss and cry.

I will take you straight to the car and wait there with you if you don't stop fussing this instant, I hissed at her. She reached over and yanked the marker from her brother's hand. I grabbed it and gave it back, scooped up the now wailing child--new to the world of actual consequences.

It was a teensy bit of a scene--me gripping her in a sloppy hug-like hold--her legs dangling, her wailing--but I felt proud with every ground-up crunched-shell step--I whisked her through the maze of outdoor diners (happy families all--did I mention?) and into the unlocked minivan. I tossed her in through the sliding door and then shut it even as she attempted to body block it from closing all the way, like trying to reload a particularly stubborn jack-in-the-box--minus the tinny-creepy music. Then I hopped into the driver's seat and pushed the automatic lock button and closed my own door. Not in time--she was pulling her door open--the lock hadn't caught. I got out and shut her door again and locked it, and shut myself in the driver's seat. She tried to get a grip on the little peg lock--pulling it up--difficult to do now that it's a gripless nub, not the shiny golf-tee shaped locks I grew up with. I kept an eye on her progress and a finger on my own auto-lock button, ready to override her first smidge of success, all the while reminding her, calmly and patiently, that if she could stop the crying and fussing and promise to stop fighting over the markers we could rejoin the crowed.

Eventually she cleared--the cloud passed--and she nodded in compliance. Just as I confirmed the agreement-she pulled the lock back up-and I opened my own door and the car must have just had enough because it started doing the most obnoxious security alarm--Meep Meep Mep Meep Meep Meep!--blaring directly at all the peaeful eaters (some of whom were sitting at picnic tables inches away from the front of my car). I reached for my keys so I could press the little red security button and realized that I didn't have them--they were back at the table in my bag. Meep Meep Meep! we blared away--I caught the eye of Rana, back at the table with the other kids.

My keys are in the bag! I yelled, and she began to grapple for it. Meep Meep Meep! Everyone stared. I was stuck--there was nothing to do. My own minivan thought I was breaking into it, from the inside I guess. And no button I could press would convince the car otherwise. Just as my keys were being delivered to me, seagulls flying away, diners clearly pissed, the honking stopped. On its own.


I opened my door to get out, smiling with relief at everyone who was frowning at me. And then Meep Meep Meep! all over again. I could stop it now by pressing the red button on the keys, but my car was still confused. It happened twice more in the time it took us to exit the car. I'm sorry, I couldn't stop it. I'm sorry, I said in the direction of all the people who hated me and who might have preferred one tantrumming toddler to all the Meep Meeping. But it was clear that my attempts at eye contact and grovelling was just making them hate me even more.

Two hours later, after some ice cream and some tv, and after a naked toothbrushing session where I discovered lazy trails of pee on the insides of her legs (!!)--she and I were in bed reading a book. After the book (Two Crazy Pigs) she requested a round of Baby Beluga-then she nestled her head on my shoulder and just...let...go.

I always know she's asleep before I can see that she's asleep. It's like a little light goes out. It's like 'Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.' It's like the Wicked Witch's sister's red and white socks have shrivelled to empty and pulled themselves out of the ruby red shoes.

We all look at Piper when she sleeps and we wonder where she's gone. What's going on in her head? Do little pings of what's important fire off in there? Chocolate Milk, Phoebe, Lukas, Dora, Blue Marker, Llama...? Or is it all quiet in there. An empty shell. The squishy turtle just walked away.

It's a beautiful thing when she drifts off--when she lets go. Mostly because she holds on so tightly--with such ferocity--all day long.

She sleeps, sweaty, breathing deeply. Her body doing what it needs to do--what it knows how to do. Gearing up for tomorrow--a day when everything might go her way.