"Who's this?" Z asked, holding up an unmistakable blond form.
"That's Barbie," I said, noting that Z instinctively knew this doll must have a name, must be a Big Deal.
"Bobbie," she murmured to herself and I didn't correct her as she turned back to my tangle of 30 year old Barbies and accoutrements (including a set of handmade clothes from the 70s that I bought at a yard sale in elementary school.) "Hi Bobbie!"
I took Z up to New Jersey with me last weekend, for a brief 24-hour visit with my parents who were keeping Sweet Dog for us while we were in Arizona. My dad had his last round of radiation last week and is feeling pretty terrible. It was not easy to see him like that, but it felt important to check in, especially now that we live this close. Plus we needed Sweet Dog desperately, I'm tired of scraping peas and tofu off the floor under E's high chair three times a day.
When we got to my folks' house, Z ran to both my parents and gave them hugs and kisses. She sat on Grampa's lap and exclaimed about the men in shiny unitards racing across the ice on TV. In the middle of dinner, she asked, "Is Grampa ever going to get better?" and we were all quick to tell her, to tell ourselves, an emphatic YES.
My Barbies, prize possessions from my elementary school years, held Z's attention for much of the visit. I thought I might feel differently about her playing with Barbie, get all feminist-y about it, but I didn't. She was playing happily for impressive lengths of time. Most days, I would sell a kidney for that.
Still, watching her carefully push high-heeled boots onto tiny pointed feet, I felt her slip a little more into a new, older place, a place where baby dolls get replaced by Barbies and babies transform into big girls.
On the way back to Virginia, with Sweet Dog on the seat next to me, I glanced back at my big girl in her carseat. She can see out the window now and we played I Spy, grappled our way through a simplified version of 20 Questions and told made-up "knock, knock" jokes.
It felt SO easy to have just her with me and I realized what a relief it was for us both to have this time together when we didn't have to be quiet or tip toe around because of E. I was able to focus on just Z for the first extended time in a long time. At my parents' house, Z was able to spread out all her tiny plastic toys on the floor and not worry that some little twerp was going to come along and mess with her stuff.
So when I finally pulled out the Dora DVD (Knock knock jokes can only take you so far. In our case, only as far as Maryland.) and we heard Dora admonish us to say 'map' louder, we both yelled at the top of our lungs and grinned at each other.
"R--- and A--- have a Sketchers club and they let me join them sometimes. Do you know what Sketchers are?" Z asked, glancing at me sideways over her usual lunch of cheesy bread.
I didn't know whether to be happy that she's "sometimes" included or completely freaked-out that the girls in her preschool are already forming "clubs".
"I do. They're shoes."
Z nodded thoughtfully and that was the end of that.
Until the next time. I know there will be a next time.
We both are still struggling to make friends. Z's still learning how to channel her enthusiasm and share her things; I'm still working on finding like-minded women and having basic conversations. Often I feel like I'm failing her. If I could just manage to find a good friend for myself, we would arrange playdates and easily overlook our kids' occasional behavioral bumps along the road.
I understand that many of the girls in her school have "best friends" already and that many of the moms are old friends. Sometimes it seems the popular girls replicating themselves in the next generation.
Z still regresses during playdates, her boundless excitement about her "friends" overtaken by a sudden need for THAT TOY YOU'RE HOLDING RIGHT THERE GIVEITTOMEWAAAHHHH. I'm nervous setting up new playdates for her, ones with people we don't know well, particularly with mothers I may want to be friends with. How will Z act? Will I be embarrassed/seem too harsh/let her get away with murder? Will her behavior get in the way of ME making friends?
I wish I could smooth this road for both of us.