I slump against the counter, crumbs under my bare feet, palm on something sticky. The LHM is still sitting on the floor with Bean, where she patted the floor to indicate we should join her. “Eh?” she said, using her all-purpose question word. “What is this? How do you do it? Will you help me?” She looks at me with her eyebrows raised and I translate it to mean, right now, “Will you come sit here?” After I sit, “Dah-jee? Eh?” to her father, patting the floor on her other side. He joins us, holding his tumbler of water, which she immediately appropriates.
Drinking out of grown-up cups is her newest skill, but pouring water is one of her favorite activities and this is a heavy glass cup, so who knows how this is going to go. She takes a drink and sets it on the rug next to her. She looks around, then signs, “Book,” which she has spotted up on the edge of the counter opposite us. I get up get it and hand it to her father. I have already read my quota of board books for the day. I stay up, because while resting felt good, sitting on that dirty floor was grossing me out.
“I know an old lady who swallowed a fly,” he begins. Bean picks up the tumbler again and peers into it.
“Honey, be careful,” I warn. She doesn’t even look at me. It is 5:30 PM and I’ve lost most of my authority, and my belief in my authority, by now. Especially now that Daddy is home. Now her hand is in the glass, up to her wrist in water, and she is twisting it, making the water swish back and forth. The LHM is holding the base, but I know this is going to end in a mess.
I watch, pondering whether I should mop the whole floor while it is wet, or if I can get away with just sponging up that section. I’m glad he’s drinking water and not milk. She pulls her dripping fingers out of the cup and watches water fall from them onto her lap. She brushes her palms back and forth against each other, signing “Clean!” and grinning up at me. Water droplets fly out across the floor.
In the morning, at her water table in the yard, or in her bath, I love to watch her experiment with the world this way. But by the evening I have grown tired of picking up, cleaning up, and changing clothes. I need to start dinner and am thinking forward to all the things I need to finish before I can fall into bed. And the list is always longer than the time remaining before a reasonable bedtime.
“It is hard to find the line,” I say, to myself, to him, to her, “between letting her explore and maintaining some kind of order in this house.” I want to be a fun mom. I want to join her in seeing the world as a science experiment. I want to let her remind me that the world is a fascinating, wonderful place.
But in the evening I want a tidy house and a quiet, obedient child. In the evening these things are beyond elusive. They are so far from the reality of the situation that some nights I just want to sit down on the filthy floor and cry in frustration. She would probably come over and crawl into my lap. She would hold my face with her little hands and look into my eyes. Which would just make me feel guilty. I’m so relieved when he walks in the door after work each night and she runs to him.
The LHM smiles sympathetically at my distress but doesn’t answer. And doesn’t take the glass out of her hand. I know I usually err on the side of order. He errs on the side of fun. He can handle more chaos than I can. And he hasn’t been managing this particular kind of chaos all day.
She puts her hand back in the water and swishes some more. This time I say nothing more and let her play.