Under Brenna’s little thumb
Brenna has silky black hair that curls at the ends, almond eyes and chiseled dimples. She glances at me accusingly, wails “Mama” for someone not here, and stares out the dark window, panting with grief and rage.I have two sons. When my friend Randi asked if someone could watch her 22-month-old, Brenna, while she and Steve attended a wedding, I looked forward to having a little girl for an evening. I’d hold her. We’d quietly read.I had expected assistance from my sons, but one was away hunting with Dad, the other at a sleepover. Still, I thought I was ready. After all, I’d had two very active toddlers, and often took care of my small dervish nephew. I tied my cabinet doors closed with a rope, picked a book, and borrowed a princess video from the library.When I fetched Brenna at her house, she fought with four flailing, outstretched limbs as her father inserted her, center first, into her car seat. On the 10-minute ride home, she shouted, “Dada!” and “Mama!” more than 100 times.She shrieked the first three times I tried to lift her out of her car seat. Finally, I set the whole seat down in the driveway, her still in it, small and baleful. After five minutes, during which I carefully used the word “cookie,” Brenna allowed herself to be lifted.Now she marches huffily away from the door and into the kitchen, enters the pantry, rifles through boxes, and stuffs raisins into her mouth. I haul her out and she races back, wobbling quickly up the stepladder to begin throwing spice jars out over her shoulder.The phone rings.I shout into it, “I can’t talk!”More jars hit the floor, then Brenna moves on and pulls off the refrigerator photos and magnets. A magnet breaks. Hanging up, I hear a rending sound, and gather up the halves of my kids’ fall school schedule.Advancing onward, Brenna moans, “Mama.”I feed Brenna applesauce, a word she can say (sort of). My friend Betsy arrives, and we lead Brenna next door to a potluck dinner. I bring her baby backpack, remembering how I used to be able to move freely in my own house when I strapped my boys on.At the neighbors’ house, I try to place Brenna in the pack; she screams, curling up fist-like in the air above it. I give up, set her down and offer apple juice; she bats at the cup. I wave a slice of watermelon; she swats it to the ground.And then a funny thing happens. Perhaps Brenna looks at me and realizes that for now, I am all she has. She suddenly deigns to ride in her backpack, and slips into it as regally as if it is a curtained litter.I hoist her up, and she steadily eats the crackers I hand back, crumbs sifting into my hair. Thirsty from her tears, she sucks down two cups of apple juice and then one of water.Next the queen accepts watermelon, and soon someone mentions that it, too, is in my hair.In the living room, a drum circle begins. My friend Carol hands Brenna up a drumstick. Charmed, Carol says, “Hit Alison in the head.” Everyone loves Brenna. Brenna smiles over each shoulder.Eventually we wind our way home, and I put Brenna in her pink-and-white pajamas. Her diaper juts out, bulbous and undignified, in back, her round belly in front.The swamp cooler on my wall unexpectedly huffs. Startled, Brenna leaps into my arms. For one moment, I am in heaven. But like any strong ruler, Brenna knows she must set limits. “Mama,” she says, to remind me of what I am not. I read to her; she thrashes, and finally drifts off at 10:30. I hold the sweet, tiny form close. She turns and whispers groggily, with one last frown, “Mama.”Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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