by Sarah Hirsch
Halfway into my baked chicken and steamed broccoli, my under-seasoned entrée becomes entirely unappealing. Rather than inform my personal chef that my satisfaction has ceased, I turn upon my tireless goal: the floor, that gleaming canvas. In an ode to the technique of Jackson Pollock, I begin to haphazardly sling the remainder of the broccoli onto the oak floors which the chef, who doubles as my maid, mopped with a homemade vinegar solution only a few hours ago. She is looking a bit frazzled now as she runs water over a kitchen towel and hesitantly approaches me. Every muscle in my body tenses, a mixture of fear and fury coursing through my veins. My arms and head flail in every direction to avoid her attack on my precious face.
After an episode of tortured wails, a sensation similar to amnesia begins to fill the space between my hiccupping cries. A cooling sense of relief floods my mind until an all-consuming, inescapable thought crowds it out: Elmo. That glorious red monster – I must see him now! As my maid sweeps up the broccoli from the floor, I slip deeply into the insatiable desire. I ignore the destroyed artwork and turn my attention to my newest goal of becoming totally absorbed in a magical land inhabited by creatures of primary colors. Their rendition of the alphabet is so much better than the feeble a cappella attempts by my soloist.
“Elmo?” I ask innocently, the weary woman now simultaneously loading the dishwasher and gulping cold coffee. Pretending she hasn’t heard my request, she puts aside her task, dries, off her hands, and guides me to a coloring book. I’ve heard this tactic referred to as “redirection” but I’m no longer so naïve as to be fooled by it. “Elmo,” I say again, in a much more forceful tone, so there will be no room for her to misinterpret the urgency of my need.
“No, sweetie, we’ve already had enough screen-time today.” The lady’s character has changed from maid to prison guard in the last few minutes, and now she refuses to bend on the allegedly strict household rules. “Screen-time” includes use of iPad, television, and her mini-computer that she tries to pass off as a phone—all wonderful bits of technology that she insists on limiting because of some parenting article she read on the internet. Past victories over her tyrannical rules have proven my uncanny ability to defeat the system, so I don’t give up easily. Increasingly loud, my demands morph into cries and then wails as the woman’s expression changes from defiance to surrender.
Two minutes later, I am sitting in front of the TV with a cup of cheddar bunnies and a juice box. My field of vision is filled with the delightful scenery of Sesame Street; the melodious tune of “Elmo’s World” fill my ears. Heaven is a place on Earth. As I happily munch on crackers, I hear her pull out her mat, noticeably excited for some time to practice that strange floor-dance. I watch out of the corner of my eye as she stands and breathes before dropping into a push-up position. Quick, the time is now! I rush over to climb onto her back, and we both collapse in giggles. Maybe I’ll let her actually complete a yoga sequence in a few years, but for now it’s much more fun to play.
As she packs away her mat, my attention is diverted to the suitcase left empty from our recent vacation. I jump over to it – jumping, after all, being the only acceptable form of transportation – and climb in. The lady has now transformed into a comedy spectator; she convulses with laughter as I do the only reasonable thing which comes to mind: lay down in the suitcase and close the door. “Oh! It’s dark in here!” I exclaim aloud. The laughter grows stronger, and as I peep out of the door and notice that the woman’s colleague has joined her witnessing whatever absurdity I am unaware of. The man and woman display comparable expressions of combined amusement and adoration. Another overwhelming emotion fills my mind; this time, love.
I giggle along with the implied joke, which I still don’t quite understand, and run out to smother the couple with hugs and kisses. “I wud you, Mama. I wud you, Dada,” I say amongst a symphony of hugs and kisses. Those damn L’s get me every time, but these two never miss a beat. Declaring, “Up!” grants me a spot on the woman’s hip, and as we find a seat on the cluttered couch and sit down to read my favorite book, again, I wonder at her ability to take on so many roles. In my two years of life, I have yet to meet such tireless, patient people as these two humans. After the book is over, the woman breaks the magic of the moment by revealing a fresh diaper in her hand. I quickly jump off the couch and begin the race around the house that prefaces every diaper change. I’m so glad she enjoys this game as much as I do. Game on.