“Hear lion waterfall, Mommy!” Caroline is standing by the bay window, her face turned to the outside, her little body turned to me—already trying to be in different places at once. There is a lot for an almost-two-year-old to see, after all. She is at the start of it, attracting everyone and everything: an elderly woman, a middle-aged man, a toddler boy, not-a-one can escape the pull and promise of this little girl. She draws smiles and awakens eyes wherever we go. Winter winds race to pinch and redden those cheeks of hers. Even the light coming from the other side of the bay window lands on Caroline with resolve, knowing she’s the one in the room most deserving of its attention.
“Baby ‘Corn hear lion waterfall, Mommy!” Caroline’s holding out a white unicorn figurine. The fact that it’s one of those “Little People” characters from Fisher Price escapes Caroline. This is a friend, and wherever we go, so goes Baby Unicorn, Mommy Unicorn, Kingee, Queenie, Dragon, and Maid Mary. Sometimes Stone Wall, Bed, and Food hitch a ride, and occasionally purple chair scores the invite, so I’m thankful that a few months back I bought on impulse a small, green felt bag with a monkey’s face on one side… soft, durable “Monkey Bag” is the ideal transport vehicle.
I’m sitting on the couch with another baby, Baby Alexandra, the 6-month old, who is mellow and smiley and patient and lovely and by all accounts a second-child. She’ll every-now-and-then cry when she’s tired or hungry, but for the most part, she’s come to understand that she will be be cared for … just as soon as her big sister has been cared for. We are calling her “Alex” and “Lex” interchangeably, so even her name is in constant movement—she is as soft and durable as Monkey Bag. I ask Caroline, “Baby Unicorn hears the lion waterfall?”
I like to think that I am a fun, strong, good mother. Caroline and I read books; we sing songs; we go to the playground to swing on the “wee-wee,” and (well, once) we finger-paint with food-colored vanilla pudding. But I had a rule (no tv for Caroline until she’s two) and as soon as Alex was born, I broke it. Now, when I nurse Alex, Caroline gets to watch “Dragon Tales.” It was the only way, the only way I thought at the time, that I could preserve my sanity. To be sure, there are worse things she could be watching, but the Dragon Tales theme song is as catchy as a common cold, following me to sleep, waking me in the morning, and bursting from my lips while I’m (well, once) cooking dinner. Irrepressibly contagious theme song aside, it’s been so interesting to see how Caroline has welcomed the Dragon Tales characters into her life. She talks of Max and Emmy as if she’s just left them in their playroom. She lights up when you ask her “Now what’s the name of the pink dragon? And the blue one?” Like her Monkey Bag companions, the DT crew has become a part of her world. Space is expanding around her—a wide open ball of fresh, welcoming, wonderful air—and Caroline is letting us all in.
So…the lion waterfall. Mr Pop is the guy in one DT episode who uses a fancy gadget to take sounds and transplant them. A frog “cockle-doodle-doos,” a cow “croaaaks,” and a waterfall roars like a lion. Although the television is off, this is what Caroline and Baby Unicorn hear as they stand by the bay window.
I am one who does not like to lose a friend. I really don’t. I need to stay connected to all of those people who were at one time important to me. I’ll take the annual Christmas card, the occasional email, the random phone call, whatever—I just like to think that the contact is a possibility, that the line is open.
The line to Mary Kate is as direct and immediate as they come for me, even though she and I, after we graduated from college, lived very different lives. She married Bobby and had her three kids before I even met my future husband, Dave. She saw me through several bad breakups, heard a bit about my stint as a lead singer in a band, and we kept in touch through the years even though at times it seemed we were speaking completely different languages. Just before I met Dave, I lost my mom to cancer, and three months before my mom died, Mary Kate lost her mother to cancer. It was the oddest of reconnections. For me, being Mary Kate’s friend was the only easy thing about watching my mom die. Mary Kate had done it just before me. It was possible.
We spoke even more on the phone during the months following our mothers’ deaths, and five years later, I will see a woman in the supermarket that looks just like her mom, get home, and pick up the phone. She will see my mom in a dream, looking really healthy and happy, and she will pick up the phone.
As Caroline hears the lion waterfall, I think of a story from one of those phone calls, when Mary Kate’s youngest—about the age of Caroline now—was in the back seat of the car, pointing outside of the window at his “nanna” who was on the other side of the window. I believed it then: that her mother was there, angel wings and all, to spend time with this irresistible little boy, this pumpkin-faced sweetheart who was welcoming everyone and everything into his growing world. She was not going to miss this. No matter what, she was going to strap on wings and fly to him. That baby saw his grandmother. He was at this glorious age where his wide open eyes were taking it all in.
Caroline is there right now. Right now. I wonder with awe and a tinge of jealousy what she is seeing, and at this very moment, I wonder what she is hearing. It may be that she hears the distant rumble of the trash truck; it may be that she hears the toss and tumble of the clothes dryer. Or, it may be that she hears the lion waterfall. I’m giving it to her. I’m allowing it as a possibility, just as I’m allowing the possibility of a visit from a healthy and happy angel. What I would do to mingle with them in that welcoming, wonderful air.