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you are not there

We are taking the little one for a ride on her new sled. It is bright orange, with a fuzzy black and white seat cover to keep her extra warm. Her tiny hands in tiny gloves hold the sides as tight as she can. I pull her down a path, shouting "woohooo" and then she replies "woohoo". N's turn is next, pulling her more schoolgirl than mother for a few minutes. There are other parents with children on sleds passing us. Their eyes straight forward, faces completely blank they slip by in silence. I flash a smile to them, and they do not even look at me. I am not there, just another tree leaning towards the stream that runs below.

There are ducks still, flapping around the brackish water and we throw pieces of stale bread to them. I start to think, not about the complete absence of smiles in this culture. I stopped asking about that long ago, told over and again that smiles are reserved for home, behind closed doors. But I wonder, for the children -  these wiggling bu…

two

E is organizing her schoolbag. Rulers, pencil sharpeners and erasers all find their place. We search for a missing shoe and somehow it was under her bed the whole time. There is only one hairband in the entire house, and I place it on the corner of my desk. The outfit is decided, now resting on the sofa. 

We get dressed to go to dinner, just the two of us. She stands in front of me, lifting the back of her hair so I can zip her dress up. We travel through the metro, her asking me the names of the stops now, studying the map on the wall her face screwed up into various expressions until she has that little "aha" moment and understands where we are going.

The streets unfold, and we are a few minutes early.
"Will they let us in?" She asks me.
I laugh a little, squeeze her hand once. 
We sit in a booth, and she already knows what she wants.

The conversation runs to a look back at this summer, her predictions for the school year. I sip my manhattan and step outside of myself, watching us chatter back and forth, forks turning into porchetta and mushroom mousse, into olives and small chunks of cheese. There is something so effortless about tonight.

My belly is full. She cannot eat another bite, half of a shrimp and a collection of greens strewn across her plate. 
I ask for the check. 

We walk slowly now, making our way back. People are letting balloons go, for some reason. We look up at two that are climbing towards the clouds.
"Look Pop." She tells me, seeing I already know they are there.
I nod.
"Who knows where this year will take us." She says, half to herself.



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