I read the Princess and Curdie at the dining room table. P draws pictures of her sisters- hair to the ground, rainbow dresses, mouths on foreheads. J colours Snow White, carefully, boldly. M draws three girls side by side and announces that they are “rich, medium and poor.” then she changes everything by adding a bold and colourful title: “Best Friends.” And I am grateful for her freedom, her truth, her perspectives that haven’t fossilized.

This morning P and I sit side by side at the table, library books piled in front of us. I drink milky coffee from a white ceramic mug. She drinks lukewarm peppermint tea, sweetened with honey. Outside the window, rain falls in lines across a glowing grey sky. We read The Little Island, Down by the Bay, The Lion and the Little Red Bird. When we read One Fine Day, she says, “I like how the person put colour by these letters…” When we read the Little Island, she says, “If I was the sky and the sea I would never storm. I’d just be peaceful all the time.” She notices black outlines, unusual shadows. I try not to think about the day she will hide in her room, read her own books, not need me to brew her tea.
While I write, she chooses purple and pink pipecleaners from a bag, calls over her shoulder as she walks down the hall, “Behave yourself over there!” Then disappears into the art room, where she talks to her imaginary students, her enchanted society.

The girls play school, gather baskets of pencils, plastic cups, glue sticks. J creates a discipline system involving fairy stained glass (the one with the toadstool is the WORST). J has never been the teacher before, she is proud and buoyant, very serious. “Timmy, you have to got to listen. Don’t you want a gold star?” P worksin the artroom, sets up her science class, writes out labels for furniture. M tries hard to be student, not correct her sisters. She answers her math questions dutifully, slips off her grey stool. I have to stop them for bedtime, interrupt their beautiful universe.

M tried out for the swim team. She was keen and eager in her new black bathing suit, goggles, swimcap. There were countless kids, moving in swarms around the pool, vying for only a few spots on the team. She swam hard, turned her face to the sky with mouth open like a small bird, tried not to bump into the other swimmers, shivered on the edge of the pool. When she finally was dismissed she ran to me and her towel, cried with exhaustion and discouragement. “It was so hard. I couldn’t breathe.” The tryouts surprised her, reminded her of her limitations, broke small fractures in my heart. Later when I ask her how she is feeling about the experience, she answers, “Confused.”

When the letter comes that informs her she hasn’t made the team, she says she is okay. She says, “I felt like a small fish in that big pool. No, like a small rock.”

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