She’s almost seven but I don’t believe it. If I met someone and they were almost seven, I’d consider them a child, sure, but a baby? No. But I didn’t meet her when she was almost seven. I met her at three, and because of our consistent relationship, one in which I see her weekly, she hasn’t aged. I still push her hair out of her face and hold her on my hip. I still hear her tip toe to the potty when she’s supposed to be sleeping and dash up the stairs to see if she needs me. She doesn’t. She’s almost seven.
She can read the things I type on my phone now, tell me that it’s not time for bed yet, and add up how many M&Ms she got versus how many I gave Gabe. These facts should tell me that she’s no longer three, but I ignore them. I always swoop my finger down her perfect nose and she does the same to me. We both lay in her twin bed after Gabe has fallen asleep and we talk about how we both wish I could come over everyday. I see a lot of myself in Grace and I try to show her the light parts of me. The parts I’m proud of. The brave and smart and laid back parts. She doesn’t know I cry a lot. She doesn’t see me break.
It was just another Tuesday night. I drive from work to their house and stand at the counter while they eat dinner and tell me the biggest things that have happened since the Tuesday before. Gabe always has a new teeny tiny scratch on his leg or elbow to show me and Grace always learned something new. Like, did you know that in Idaho, it is unlawful to give another citizen a box of candy that weighs more than fifty pounds? And I say, I didn’t know that but I think a box of candy that is more than fifty pounds is probably too much candy anyway. She nods and goes back to her dinner.
I have about an hour between the time that I get there and the time they need to start getting into bed, so I make up a game that will keep them from braiding my hair the whole time or doing cartwheels off the couch.
On my count, you each run and choose five blocks of wood. You have a few minutes to build a race course that the car can zoom through without stopping. They each show me what they’ve built. Then they switch courses and have to improve upon what the other has built. They show me again and we all laugh at how the cars really don’t go far at all. They like to be timed and they like to be competitive They like cars and they like building. We play a few rounds and then we start cleaning up.
I noticed a slight shift. She was getting tired, needy and sick of Gabe. He was putting blocks into a bucket and she threw one in, knowing it would probably hit him, not knowing the consequence. It did, and he cried. I knew she immediately regretted it. I told her to say sorry. Embarrassment mixed with exhaustion and she was gone. Running away from me, crying, completely falling apart. I had seen it before. Wasn’t she three years old? Or was she almost seven? I couldn’t remember.
I looked up at the ceiling as her footsteps pounded above – us in the living room, her in the bedroom now. I looked back at Gabe.
“She just likes to cry and be alone sometimes,” and he put the blocks away.
I went upstairs to talk to her, but she ran again, crying louder, this time back down to the couch, burying her head in the pillow.
“I don’t feel good. I’m having a bad day. NO ONE IS BEING NICE TO ME. I just want to be alone!” she was losing it.
I couldn’t help but half smile and shake my head. Karma. Is this not exactly what I did last night? Was James not in this exact position that I’m in now? Following me around, hopeless, trying to calm the emotions of a woman gone mad? What did I want?
I crouched right down to her level and spoke really quietly,
“Grace. I know how you feel. You must feel so sad and feeling sad must be making you so tired. When we feel like no one understands, we push them away. But what we really need is a hug, huh?”
I had her attention now, she didn’t even notice she wasn’t crying, just looking at me with bloodshot eyes and damp curls.
She hugged me so I kept talking.
“Last night, I was crying too because I just felt so sad and tired. I felt like no one could understand me. I don’t want to see you be sad. It’s probably been a really long day.”
I carried her up while Gabe pulled tissues out from a box for his sister.
Later, I told her about when she was three and how mad she used to get. Oh the fits she used to throw. I told her how when I first met her, I didn’t know how to make her feel better when she was sad. I told her I’ve gotten much better at it and also that she’s grown up so much. She’s almost seven! She smiled.
I realized then that she might not outgrow it. I realized that I probably wouldn’t either.
Then I imagined an older James and an older Jenna. He would say, I remember when you were younger, oh the fits you used to throw. I didn’t know how to make you feel better when you were sad. But I think I’ve figured you out. And also, you’ve grown up so much.
An almost seven year old and a twenty-five year old fell sound asleep at 8 o’clock.