8:30 a.m. I wake to a breath against my cheek. I open my eyes to filtered sunlight on a round face, still faintly babyish, soft and a bit silly. Elizabeth.
She speaks. “Mama, you’re up!”
She rolls on top of me, putting her small hands on either side of my jaw. “I’m hungry!”
Her smile reveals the gap in her mouth. Her first tooth fell out yesterday. A pink tongue finds the hole. She isn’t used to the sensation, an empty space, the spongy gum.
She wriggles impatiently. “Get up!”
“You’re on me!” I say.
She slides off easily in her slippery nightgown. “Can we have cake?” Last night we baked a lemon one, creamy yellow with frosting like sunshine.
“Does that sound like a healthy start to your day?”
“Mama! That’s a commercial!”
She gets yogurt instead, with a promise of cake later. Her sister stirs in her room. Soon the television punctures the quiet, a cacophony of cartoon shouts and sound effects clattering through the room.
Emily arrives, crying. “What happened?” I ask.
“I scraped my arm on the bed.”
I examine the wound, a long pink mark with a bit of skin peeling back. “It will only hurt a minute,” I assure her, pulling her into a hug. She’s nine now, and I only get to hold her this close when she’s hurt or sick.
Within minutes, she’s eating cheerios. Elizabeth has already tired of cartoons and sits on the floor to her room, reassembling her Betty Spaghetti doll. She starts humming, then when she gets to the part of the song she knows, bursts out with, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow!” She’s mad about Annie right now. We’ve had to limit how many times we will play the song in the car.
The day off is a relief to them after two weeks of school, early mornings, strains to make the bus, homework and due dates and pressure. We all stretch out in our free morning, lounging in pajamas, not doing our hair, wandering about the house to look for something to do.
I know these days are fleeting. Already they shift into the young women they will become. They cry less, fight more, and don’t tell me everything.
But today is our day, they are still little, and I capture this passing ordinary moment of their childhood, a picture of our life together while they are still at home, I am still their daily influence, and they are mine.
Now it’s time to eat cake.