WHEN my daughter Hallie was small, my mother and I took her to the city to buy her first pair of shoes. When the white cotton laces were tied, her well-padded ankles puffed out above the shoe tops like rag-doll legs. Up until this day she had worn only soft slippers. I wondered if she would resist the sturdier shoe. Her grandmother held her right hand, and I held her left. Swinging between us, Hallie did an intricate little dance step that I've never seen duplicated - even on the stage.
It is the "firsts" of my children that draw me to parenthood like a ball to a jack. I remember the first lunch box I bought, the first time my children tasted solid food, and the first time my daughter ate lunch with her great-grandmother. She was uncharacteristically quiet for a four year old. Later she told me she was trying to count the wrinkles in Gram's face.
"It's a good thing you didn't count out loud," said my son to emphasize a first lesson in sensitivity.
I was in the garden last night when Hallie shouted "light desserts" with such puissance that I found myself rushing into the house to see what had happened.
"I can read it," she said and lifted the blue-and-red cereal box above her head. "The gh," she said "says nothing." She looked a bit disgusted, as though the builders of language clearly had a few weak spots in their foundation.
It seems fitting that my daughter's learning-to-read experience coincides with the birth of some swallows whose parents have built a nest outside Hallie's bedroom window. The bird's determined swoops and precise dives remind me of Hallie's approach to any new task. I've tried to capture her on film for some of these new beginnings, but there's always a bit of a blur where she's flown from the confines of a pose. Perhaps it is this quality that makes her "firsts" ring out with all the resonance of a brass
Our family is about to fly east on a journey we took by car two years ago. My son and daughter have never been on an airplane. Ever the pragmatist, my son asks, "Who gets the window?" My daughter, on the other hand, listens carefully as I tell her how the cities will look like Lego creations. I explain to her how rivers, when viewed from above, look like slender snakes slithering across mountains and green patches of land. I tell her about the last time I was on a plane heading east. It was winter, and s katers crisscrossed a frozen river. The river and the skaters, who seemed no bigger than my daughter's thumb, grew in size as the plane flew lower and lower to the ground.
I tell my children they can share the window: One can be next to it on the flight over, and the other can sit beside it on the way home. "But what about you?" Hallie asks.
"I'm not sure you'll understand this for many years," I say, "but I would rather watch you looking out the window than look out the window myself."
She gives me the same look she gave to the language builders who threw "gh" into the middle of words for no apparent reason.
She turns her attention to the cereal box. Oddly enough, I tell her, the first word I remember reading was "airplane."
"Light desserts," she muses.
When she was learning to talk, my daughter wandered around the house saying "WOW WOW WOW WOW." One day we figured out she only said this when the dog was tailing her, trying to lick up the scraps of breakfast falling from her coveralls.
My husband confirmed the connection when he read her a story one night, and she pointed to the dog and said, "Wow, wow."
Just as "wow wow" took its place in the history of my daughter's speech, she can put this new phrase in the record of celebratory shouts of new beginnings: I did it myself, give me five, awesome, light desserts.