I couldn't help but giggle at the way her face lit up.
We were in the State Run Toddler Group class she goes to once a week, just like her brother before her. But unlike him in nearly every way, she tries new things with reckless abandon, obeys requests and is fine with a rotating, unpredictable series of events. She even tries new food and only occasionally spits it back out.
Before us at the miniature snack time/art table were sheets of construction paper, along with smaller bits of brighter paper, some jewel-toned cellophane, and a tiny plastic cup of flour. The teacher added water to the cup and instructed the kids to mix it with their first fingers to make paste.
A sensory activity snuck in to art time, I noted to myself.
Tova paused only momentarily, then proceeded to mix her paste and consider eating it before I could clarify what the paste was for. I took a small square of lime green paper and used my finger to spread the paste onto it, placing it upon the brown construction paper and patting it in place.
"See? It's glue to make art," I said to her curious brown eyes, wide at the forming comprehension of what lay before her.
By way of pointing and signing (as she does in larger groups though lord knows at home she uses her words nonstop) she requested the paste and more paper scraps and very seriously constructed her first masterpiece of her educational career. Every small intervention on my part was greeted with a sharp NO, NO TOUCHY! which cracked up the teacher, the speech pathologist, and the other parents at the table.
When it was time to clean up, she protested, feeling her paper was not adequately covered in flour paste and paper scraps, but a soft chiding from the teacher coaxed her acquiescence where I could not. After washing our hands, singing the good-bye song, and putting on our coats, I reached for the paper on the table.
"ROOOOAAAARRR!" she yelled with clawed fingers as she rushed past my legs and to the paper, snatching it up before I could bend far enough to retrieve it. This new form of expression of angst and frustration is one she's picked up from her brother, but still isn't one we're terribly fond of. It's better than screaming, we guess, so we hope they grow out of it.
She carefully took the paper in her two still-barely-chubby hands and looked at it admiringly, then turned on her heel to leave the class without me. I scrambled to follow as I quadruple checked we had everything we came with, speeding up my gait to match her dutiful march down the carpeted hallway towards the front entryway of the building.
In the car, she screamed while I strapped her into her cat sat because I took the paper away to thread her arms through the five-point harness. Once back in her hands, she calmed, softly saying to herself ooh, lookaddat, espweetty, LOOK MOMMEEEEE, ESPWEETTY?! and my constant response of yes, Tova, it's very pretty. You did a great job, we'll hang it up when we get home.
But once home, she refused my hand as we climbed our front stoop stairs, all of her energy focused on holding her treasured creation with both hands, even if it caused her to nearly fall on the steps twice. And once inside, after she carefully set it down on the play table in the living room so that I could help her remove her coat and shoes, she actually hit me in a tantrum of rage when I tried to take it to hang it up on our little gallery wall of kid art in the corner of the living room, exactly as I said I would just minutes prior in the car.
I thought she'd have liked to see her work hanging amidst the latest projects her brother has brought home, as well as some word art and baby photos of them. But no, it needed to be on the table, a specific way, and her insistence let blossom a bracing inside my chest as the sounds of the school bus putting on the brakes outside our home caught my ear.
I wanted to save the work before Kiedis got home, afraid that if he got his hands on it, he would mercilessly, yet probably unintentionally, destroy it. But now, I had no choice.
I told Tova to sit still as I went outside to retrieve Kiedis and bring him in. He likes for me to carry him up our front stairs and into the house -- it's often the only part of the day where he gives me hugs or kisses or in any way acts happy to see me, so I oblige fairly unwaveringly.
We cross the threshold of our front door and as always I set him on his feet while I juggle the broken screen door, the outside cat that desperately wants to come in, and the front door. I hear Tova shrieking, and my chest tightens as I struggle to decipher what exactly it is her ear-shattering toddler soprano is saying.
"KEE-SEE KEE-SEE KEE-SEE!" she shouts, and in a beat I realize she's not screaming in angst, but in joy. I turn to look into the living room where they stand, Kiedis struggling to take off his still half-zipped coat while saying to no one in particular zip-PER zip-PER in a request for assistance.
Tova is joyfully running towards him in this funny little gallop she usually saves for truly gleeful moments such as food being served or a requested toy being produced, and in her hands is her piece of paper art.
I wince as I watch Kiedis turn in circles becoming more and more frustrated with his coat, oblivious to his sister approaching him. I am half in the door, trying not to catch the outside cat's head in the closing screen door, knowing I will not be able to breach the distance between the door frame and where my children are about to collide on the far side of the living room, as Tova barrels forward, her big, sweet heart on a brown piece of construction paper, unaware that both are about to be annihilated.
She stops short of his frustrated bubble of wardrobe malfunction, holding her artwork at arm's lengths towards him, still shrieking KEE-SEE KEE-SEE!
"Look-ed! Espweetty, Kee-see? Espweetty?"
I suck in a hard gasp as he turns to face her, one elbow bent up towards the ceiling as he forcefully grasps the cuff of his coat sleeve, yanking on it with his other hand in efforts to free himself. I imagine that elbow crashing down as he hits her away, the sound of the paper tearing as she cries oh no! and the tears of them both, of her loss and his angst at life and no doubt a whisper of my own, for her and for their relationship and for this life and the lessons it teaches them about heartbreak and how those you love the most can hurt you the worst and how I wish I could spare them that, this unfolding moment of destruction, and have them be innocent just a little bit longer.
Instead, he stops. He releases his coat sleeve and reaches out for her offering, taking it gingerly in his two little hands and considers it. I can see his eyes searching the pattern, studying the crinkles and colors with the rapt yet discerning attention of an art student at a museum.
"Ooohhh, Kee-see, espweetty?!" she says again, eyes shining bright, pride and the longing for his approval radiating from her every little pore.
I hold my breath. He is not above shredding it in her face and I know it, though at this point just his disinterested discardment of it will do enough damage, if she can understand the hint.
"Woooow, Toh-vaah, es bootafuh," he says quietly, gently handing it back to her before turning on his heel and meeting my gaze. "Mommy zip-PER HELPEEEET?!"
I am in the entry to the living room now and I bend at the waist as he approaches and I mumble that I'll help him, just hold on. He wiggles as I struggle to free him from his fabric confines, but I am too busy looking over his shoulder at his sister, who stands serene in the center of the room, looking down at her piece of paper between her hands, in her own world of joy and validation.
She turns to look at the gallery wall, scanning it before spinning around and facing me with a resolute determination. I'm working on taking off Kiedis' shoes and socks while he balances against me, but she pays no mind to that.
"Mommee, up kweeze?!" she half-asks, half-demands as she begins to scale my bent leg and grasps around my neck. I give the final tug to Kiedis' sock and he bounces away to look for a DVD and pull her up as I stand, her chubby finger pointed towards the gallery wall. I take the handful of steps, and before I can ask her where she'd like to hang her priceless masterpiece, she points to the upper-most frame on the right side, a simple black outline with a small beaded trim.
"Riiiih dere!" she shouts, and I set her down so that I may reach the spot, remove the old piece of Kiedis' hanging there, a Mother's Day hand print on a pre-printed poem from the very same classroom, made at the very same spot at that table, now nearly two years ago. She emphatically hands me the paper and watches in awe as I hang it up by the binder clip and teacup hook.
"OH, dancue welcuh!" she yells and grins as she stares at it for a second, then runs off towards her baby doll in her stroller, grabbing it and proceeding to run victory laps to the kitchen and back again, the grating sound of the plastic scooting of the wheels on the hardwoods only eclipsed by her own near-maniacal laughter.