May 17, 2006

Way Better Than Housework

"Are we there yet, Mama?"

"Not yet, Sass."

"What's taking so long?"

"Just a little bit farther..."

A deep sighing comes from the backseat, then:

"I just can't take it anymore."

An annual rite of spring in our family is the year's inaugural trip to our fantastic local children's zoo. This is where we were headed today.

I took Sass the first time when she was 8 months old. She was fascinated by the unique, hand-carved carousel and that first ride began a long love affair. That first summer, she was still a baby, and rode the horses with one of us aboard behind her, shouting out as we spun round and round, waving her hands frantically when it stopped: more, more, more. The second year, at a year and a half, she would have been more likely to eat one of those wooden horses than saddle up on one. She was terrified of riding them, but insisted on riding the carousel itself. All summer we rode the cushioned seats in the ornate sleighs on board and she simply watched the horses go up and down, up and down.

If you asked me what I love about Sass, I could give you a list that would reach to the moon and back. But this is one thing about her that I truly respect. She's a girl born with a head full of caution. She's a quiet observer, slow to open up. At almost 3 and a half, she is just now starting to slowly expand her tight circle of people she trusts without question beyond her dad, grandma and I. I work really hard to help her build confidence, and try not to whittle it away with too many cautionary words. When Sass really wants to do something with her whole heart, it doesn't matter how much it scares her. She'll work through it step-by-step until she finds the courage to do what she set out to do.

This is what she did her third summer at the zoo. She approached that merry-go-round with enthusiasm -- hearing the music from the car she could hardly wait while we got out the stroller, strapped in her new baby sister, and rolled everyone in to the zoo. When we got on the first time that summer, we started sitting in the sleighs, but I could see we wouldn't stay there for long. The next time we came, she sat on a horse that didn't go up and down. She stayed there for at least two visits, eyeing up those massive horses that climbed high as they sailed around the circle. Finally -- midsummer -- M plopped her on one of those horses without asking first. Her eyes got big and she gripped his wrists. Do you want a different horse? he asked her quietly. No Daddy. Hold me. She was ready, and as I watched her ride that day I could see the pride in her face, and I could see she was thrilled at finally overcoming her fear to soar high on those tall horses, flying around and around again.

Today she saw all the cars and busses in the parking lot and worried there wouldn't be room on the carousel for her. I assured her that she would get a turn -- as many as she wanted, since last year we got smart and paid the very reasonable membership fee to get all the carousel rides we wanted for free. I watched her eye the horses, mentally sizing them up. She picked one that didn't move and I sat Party Girl on it's partner.

"I'm a little scared, Mama."

Sass is a bottler, and we've been working on talking about feelings. I was really proud of her for saying so.

"You're scared, huh? Can I help you not be so scared?"

"Just hold me."

It didn't take even one full rotation before she announced, "I'm riding the zebra next!" Not only does the zebra go up and down, it doesn't have a saddle and is extra slippery. On the next ride as she sat on his back, she was actually trembling in anticipation. She was back in the saddle again.

It was Party Girl's first time on the carousel. PG is not a quiet baby, and even if you have no idea what she's saying, she's constantly talking. When the merry go round started that first time today, her eyes got big, her jaw went slack, and she didn't talk or move the entire ride. When it stopped, she beat on the horse's mane and wiggled in the saddle, trying to make it go again. I thought we had another carousel convert, but after two or three rides she began to squirm and wanted to get down.

Things changed when we got to the animals. Sass's plan is to get through the animals as fast as she can to get back to the merry go round. Oh sure, a quick ride on the train, pat the goats and sheep and see if they're feeding the penguins, but mostly it's a cursory look and back to her favorite ride. (Though when we paused at a new exhibit today, I said What are those? trying to figure out if they were burros or mules or what and Sass said Mom? Those are donkeys. Some days I think I may have lost more IQ points than I realize with this whole childbirth thing.)

Party Girl, though, was enthralled with the animals. It amazed me how she was able to understand so quickly the whole zoo idea. We'd pass these habitats where you'd see rocks and waterfalls and trees and Sass and I knew to look for the wolves and suddenly there was PG shouting, "Dog! Dog-gay!" She could see them too, even though they were napping under some underbrush.

PG has exactly three animal words: dog, cat, and duck. As we wandered the zoo she called each animal we saw by one of those names and I'll be darned if she didn't categorize them in a pretty consistent manner. The peacock, chickens, baby chicks, penguins, and macaws were all ducks. The otters, prairie dogs, goats, and sheep? Dogs. And the rabbit? Cat. Of course the crocodiles were cats too, but whatever. And the capuchin? As we strolled by them she first said cat and then she heard Sass say The monkeys! My favorite! and then PG let out a loud, "Oo Oo, Ah Ah!" Just like a monkey. All of this is proof to me what I already knew...she's a genius.

A few more rides on the carousel, some cotton candy at the concession stand, and I strapped my girls -- sleepy, sticky, damp, and happy -- into their carseats. Sass fell sound asleep with cotton candy still in her hand, mouth open, brow furrowed. Party Girl -- who is in that stage where she won't close her eyes until she actually loses consciousness -- fought it all the way home and spent the hour before dinner stumbling around the house like a drunken sailor -- bouncing into things, falling down, and yelling her baby curse words.

After dinner, we spent a half hour on the porch watching a rainstorm come in. Sass learned to throw those little helicopter seed pods yesterday and she threw them off the porch one by one, letting the wind carry them away. Party Girl grabbed the sidewalk chalk and drew little straight little lines all around herself in a circle. When the rain quit, we all came in to quiet down for bedtime.

I rocked a very sleepy Party Girl to sleep while Sass played in her room. After I laid PG down, I found Sass in her closet wearing a size 18 month navy blue velour holiday dress. It barely covered her now nakey bum.

"When did I wear this when I was old?" she asked.

"You wore it when you were a baby, to Christmas at Grandma G's," I told her.

"You love me very much, don't you Mama?" She was sleepy and getting a little nonsensical, and I pulled the dress off of her and got her ready for bed.

"Yes I do, love. Yes I do."

If there's a better way to spend a Wednesday, I'm not sure what it would be.


Blogger Tater and Tot said...

That, my friend, is a perfect day with your girls! Thanks for sharing the day with us!

*found you through crazy/hip blog mamas*

May 17, 2006 11:55 PM  
Blogger Misty said...

I just love those kind of days....
Today was not one of them. Maybe tomorrow. That was a perfect day, tho....

Found you thru the chbm...but i still haven't figured out how i messed up signing up for it myself...another day...

I'm also on a weightloss journey.

May 18, 2006 12:23 AM  
Blogger Margaret said...

Sounds like you and the girls had a really nice day.

May 18, 2006 6:55 AM  
Blogger Moxie said...

This made me cry.

May 18, 2006 11:03 AM  
Anonymous MOM said...

What a wonderful day and you told about it so eloquently - I could see each smile and feel each shiver of anticpation. When I read it, I was reminded of a song that I sang with my friends at my high school graduation -
"When you come to the end of a perfect day, and you sit alone with your thoughts. While the chimes ring out with a carol gay, for the joy that the day has brought. leaves a thought that is big and strong, with a wish that is kind and true. Mor memory has painted this perfect day with colors that never fade. And we find at the end of a perfect day, the soul of a friend we've made"
You had a perfect day, your girls made colorful, wonderful memories to tell their kids about. I love the Mom that you are.

May 21, 2006 9:36 AM  
Blogger Rach said...

This made me cry, too. It's so good to remember days like this when I'm not having a day like this... so thanks.

Rach (found you through Moxie)

May 23, 2006 3:44 PM  

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