She giggles and runs her little wobble-run up the small hill, stopping at the crest that separates our yard from the neighbor's. It is there the little girl who used to live next door stands, shyly smiling, gauging her allowance for interaction with my attention and her family's lack thereof.
She looks back to me, her orangey wisps of fine hair the same texture as my own blowing loosely across her dainty face. Three sets of impossibly dark chocolate eyes meet, and for a brief moment I am struck by the similarity yet stark difference of the owners of each pair.
I nod and blink, hearing the sounds of two young voices giggle in the darkness behind my eyelids. I can't help but allow a small smile.
She calls the neighbor girl by the wrong name -- an Anglicization of her given name, which thanks to my education I know is actually considered an American name (as in, it was coined here versus most of the names considered "normal" which hail from various European countries) -- and I try to correct her, her privilege is showing. The neighbor girl doesn't mind, or at least doesn't say anything. Roughly two years the elder of this pair, the neighbor girl moves in spaces with the curiosity and caution of someone constantly tagging along, being told they are in the way, and she looks at me often to see if I am watching, perhaps waiting for me to chide her. But with my girl, she is none of these things; she is given opportunity to be the leader in their games, to play as children do.
So she marches and is followed dutifully; she smiles and giggles and is smiled and giggled with. These two girls who have known each other for the last two years are enthralled with the appearance of doing nothing but standing next to one another and looking up at the bright blue sky.
Watching them, I feel the walls that separate my identity as a woman-mother and my identity as a once-girl waiver, and I am transported to a time where I used to sit on hills with the neighbor girls and watch the sky. I remember the feeling of the bigness of everything, the infiniteness of time as it paused around me and my activities. I remember understanding the world only as it related to me at that moment, being the center of my own universe. And I remember my confusion and eventual disdain for the adults who always seemed to take away the important events of my young life for their own indiscernible reasons.
But for the moment, the ghost of the once-girl stands eye-to-eye with these two girls, the three sets of dark chocolate eyes peering at one another, shining brightly with the simple joy of reuniting to watch the world go by.
As if on cue, the neighbor girl's father calls after her with a sharpness of tone altogether not uncommon from any parent, however overused in this particular dynamic. Her small, bony shoulders fall slightly and a longing glance flits between myself and my girl before she turns abruptly to run in his direction. The woman-mother in me knows now that the role of the parent is not to inherently ruin the fun of the child, but to maintain a schedule and obligations and appointments, and how impossible that feels to convey to a barely-verbal preschooler. I muse on how the exasperation in a parent's voice is heard by little ears, as it was heard by mine what now feels so long ago; how urgency can be misunderstood as anger, and the general confusion that comes with an intervention upon a young one's reverie so often taken so personally when it it so very rarely meant to be.
Halfway down the neighbor's stoop stairs a small glance over the shoulder and a small, almost apologetic wave from the neighbor girl incites my girl to start yelling goodbye to her, still using the incorrect name, while she frantically waves. Once the neighbor girl is out of sight, my girl comes to where I stand in the shadows of our home, asking me if I see the sky. She lays down in the grass, oblivious to the cloud of gnats erupting in her wake, and sighs deeply. It is hard to not hear a sadness in that exhale, a disappointment in the world around her that her playtime with a non-familial companion was cut to honestly mere moments, when if it were up to them, it could have continued indefinitely.
I tell her I do, I do see the sky, as I repeat and confirm everything she points out to me -- the rocks, the grass, the flowers, the leaves. I notice her tiny voice sounds slightly flatter than it did just moments ago in the company of the neighbor girl and I brace to not take that too personally. Because however I may see myself, fractured in my identities as I relive childhood through a new set of dark chocolate eyes, to her I am nothing more complex than Mommy, a grown-up who will never truly appreciate what it means to stand on a hill and watch the sky.