Tuesday, February 26, 2013


She is two years old, dressed as a witch in the middle of February. Her name is Emma and her mother lets her stand on the waiting room seat. She leans casually against the adjacent window, her chocolate curls jumble-jangled. She is babbling nearly complete sentences. Every fourth word her mother asks – “What? You want what?" – not understanding her daughter's new found vocabulary. 

Emma lets out a belly laugh or a yelp or a grumble with each offering her mother makes – goldfish (happy), pretzels (happy), dried cherries (happy), wet wipes (not happy). I watch the mother try to reason, asking appropriate specific questions in an appropriate specific tone – “What's wrong, Emma? What's wrong? No. No. Don't hit, Emma. Can I snuggle you?” – until Emma falls into her mother's embrace, her messy curls mingling with the smooth blonde strands of her mother's hair.

Emma lolls her head in my direction. She reaches out one perfectly pudgy hand and rests it on the seat between us, her fingernails as delicate as tissue paper folded into flowers. I want to, almost do, stretch out and touch her skin. I stop myself on the outside but on the inside I keep extending, my winter hands making contact with this child's perfect tiny thumb. I want to touch this child’s completeness and simplicity.

Emma tips her head away from me, away from her mother, away from herself. Her soft round chin pointing upward, through the mean fluorescent waiting room lights, through the tiled ceiling and up to the sky. She is limitless. She wears purple and orange and yellow and green and she leans back and back and back until she gasps for air.

Suddenly Emma flips forward and hurls herself at her mother's chest, her hands smashing into her mother's face – “No, don't hit. I said no. Remember what ‘I said no’ means? No. No.” –  but Emma just screams, flailing, fighting, her face contorted, her mother's words an unbearable physical restraint. Her mother persists – “Nooo” – extending the 'o' in a deep full voice. And Emma cries and wraps her arms around her mother's neck, her wet face resting on her mother's shoulder. I see the fear drain from her porcelain skin. She looks at me, then looks away.

Emma still has the wet wipe clutched in her little fist. Behind her mother's back she cleans the seat between us, rubbing the grimy cold metal, a modest mutiny. Her face is droopy and wet with tears and then her eyes show that she has moved on. Emma takes the crumpled wipe and delicately brushes it against her chin, her eyes, her nose, her lips. She rubs the dirty cloth against her unspoiled skin. She has no fear.