Her mother’s daughter

Sunday afternoon we took Leta swimming for the first time this year at a public pool with a shallow end for kids. Her reaction to water so far has been positive if not a little too enthusiastic, like a Golden Retriever. She seeks it out, is drawn to it magnetically, and if she sees a puddle while we’re on a walk she will try to Incredible Hulk her way out of the buckle holding her into the stroller so that she can fling her body into the water face first.

When we entered the gates at the pool she responded exactly as we expected her to, with unmitigated joy and a hyper, machine gun string of, “WALLER! WALLER! WALLER!” We’ve tried unsuccessfully to get her to pronounce water with a T in the middle, and when she asks for a drink of waller one of us will usually say, “You mean WAH-TER. Water.” Once while going through this drill Jon deliberately lingered on the T sound, and afterward instead of repeating it Leta just said, “That’s right, Daddy. Good job.” She was glad to see he had been practicing.

After we lathered up in an obscene amount of sunscreen, I grabbed her hand to walk her over to the edge of the pool. She was literally skipping until she realized, whoa, that’s a big puddle, and then she froze. So I picked her up and inched slowly toward the shallow end. It took at least 20 minutes to convince her to dip her toes through the top of the water and another 20 to get her to sit on the top step with her butt in the water. She and I sat there for at least a half-hour, and Jon tried repeatedly to pull her out into the water to get her to swim. Each time she would freak out and holler, “SIT DOWN! SIIIIIIIT DOOOWWWWN!” What he was doing out there in the deeper water, paddling his arms and all that other work? That was not her idea of a good time. My kid came to lounge by the side of the pool with a bag of cheddar goldfish nearby for easy snacking. I had no idea she would catch on so quickly.

Both of us caught nasty chills while sitting with our feet in the pool, and yesterday Leta woke up with a miserable cold. Because she hasn’t been sick very often we haven’t yet learned how to prevent it from shutting down the rest of our lives. The whining and moping and ABJECT DISAPPOINTMENT THAT LIFE MUST CONTINUE TO BE LIVED, they are the reason I have an ongoing muscle spasm in my top lip. Every time she loudly complains that her clothes, they are touching her body, the left side of my upper lip starts quivering and then recedes disgustedly to show the whites of my incisors and canines, like the first time I was forced to look at a penis.

She doesn’t want to sleep but also doesn’t want to be awake, and could someone please explain to her why? Why are those her only two choices? When she does sleep, when she does collapse into a coughing, exhausted heap, she sleeps restlessly, and last night she had a nightmare and screamed out for Elmo. This morning as we were lying in bed eating a bowl of Trix Are For Kids and watching Sesame Street, a growling alien head tore its way out of Leta’s chest and bit off my hand when Andrea Bocelli started singing opera to Elmo. Totally natural reaction, although a tad dramatic. Even for me.

But she wouldn’t stop screaming for Elmo! EELLLLLLMMMMMOOOO! and I had to hold her back from crawling to the end of the bed and leaping at the television. Maybe she was afraid that Andrea was killing Elmo with his song, maybe something similar happened in her nightmare, and I had to assure her that Elmo was okay, he was still breathing and talking in third person, still pronouncing crayon incorrectly. After I calmed her down I wiped giant tears from her right cheek and a green mustache of snot from her lip. And then I held her close because the fact that she is this emotionally invested in the well-being of a character on television, that is proof more powerful than DNA that she was born from my egg.