My body is preparing to give birth. I feel it — in the taut skin stretched over my abdomen, in the restlessness of my feet in the middle of the night, in the pokes and prods of the baby inside me. We are preparing to separate, and finally be together.
I wonder if my daughter can feel the change in the air, if she knows somehow that the wind is blowing not only a change in the seasons, but a new sibling into her life. We’ve talked about the coming baby, but at not quite two, I don’t know if she can make the connection between our conversations and the games she plays with her sibling-to-be, tapping on my belly and awaiting the resulting kick.
I am huge but I don’t feel awkward, and my daughter and I spend our days outside, drinking up our last moments of these days alone together, until a weeklong downpour sentences us to the indoors. We rattle around the house, restless.
“Boots!” I hear her call one day, as the rain finally tapers off. “Boots, boots!”
The boots in question are a pair of green galoshes, given to her by a friend who’s outgrown them. They’re still too big for her, but she loves them — exactly the color of a green Crayola crayon, they look like little frogs, complete with whimsical eyes on the toes.
I have a love/hate relationship with the galoshes; they’re adorable, but they’re too big for her. She can barely walk in them, so I have to stop and wait for her as she navigates her way, ever so slowly, picking up one cautious foot and placing it in front of the other. “Boots!” she calls again, her nose pressed up against the window. I peer out over her head. The new development we live in wasn’t equipped to handle a seven-day deluge, and while it rained we had an honest-to-goodness moat in our backyard — mud-brown and surrounded by pieces of concrete barriers, black pipes large enough to hide a grown man, rotting wood, old tires, and other construction debris. But there’s brand-new sod out there today, and my daughter wants to go outside. In her boots. It’s squelchy out there to say the least, and so against my better judgment I agree to a walk in boots. I don a pair myself, pink-and-green candy stripes, lurid in their brightness.
Outside she takes a few steps on the new grass, and predictably, falls over. But she picks herself up and keeps walking. I’m not in a hurry. I have no deadlines looming save for the one stretching in my stomach. The green galoshes make schlop-schlop noises as my daughter tromps through the grass and the mud, and I tromp along beside her. She is radiant with barely-contained joy at being outside on a walk for the first time in days, and as she stomps along her boots almost touch the hemline of her shorts, which are also too big for her. She throws her head back and laughs for the sheer delight of the outdoors, takes a few more steps, and trips over her boots. She picks herself up, again. Her hands are muddy and her elbows red, but she doesn’t seem to mind.
Suddenly I see her small body tense.
“God!” she calls, pointing to a small puppy up ahead of us, out playing with his owner.
“Yes, that’s a dog,” I answer, ignoring the dyslexia she seems to cling to on this word.
“God!” she calls again, beginning to dance in her boots. “God God God!!!”
And suddenly, she is off, running where only moments before she could barely walk in her boots without falling. Her green galoshes are a crayon-colored blur beneath her flying legs, her shorts slipping down to reveal the band of a diaper around her waist. I have to trot to keep up with her as she sprints, skimming over the uneven ground as she soars off in pursuit of her goal. She is running with full toddler abandon, chest thrust forward and tummy roundly leading the way, a streak of color as she flies: red hair, white shirt, blue shorts, green galoshes. She is strong, she is wild, she is free.
At the top of the hill she reaches for my hand without looking at me, and I feel her fingers clasp my own as we plummet down the other side, without falling.
“God!” she calls as she runs, and the word itself is a joy, falling from her lips as she chases the wind. “God! God!”
We are almost within reach of the puppy, its young, male owner looking a bit startled to be accosted by a flying toddler and a hugely pregnant woman. In the moment before we reach the dog I smile at him. He smiles back, uncertainly, and I don’t see a welcome in his eyes. I reach out the hand my daughter has dropped and place it on her shoulder to slow her down.
But I don’t want her to stop, I don’t want to slow her down. I want her to rush up to the puppy and embrace it with the full force of her toddler love; I want it to be the kind of dog who will let her. I want the owner to magically mature in the seconds it will take us to reach him, smiling on her without looking like he fears he too might have to deal with these inconveniences someday — huge women, tiny tots. I want my daughter’s afternoon walk-turned-run to be perfect, her green galoshes bolstering her up into a world where everything is beautiful, everything is perfect, everything is Crayola-colored and hers for the taking.
The dog-owner looks at me warily, and I meet his gaze with a forced smile. What he doesn’t know is that I’m just as uncomfortable with this encounter as he is. I’m afraid of dogs — “afraid” in the same way some people are afraid of spiders or snakes (and I’m none too fond of those, either) — afraid with a terror that borders on ridiculous. I was bitten as a child, when I was not much older than my daughter is now, and I’ve never quite gotten over it.
But I’m trying to now, for the sake of my daughter. She loves dogs, and I want her to be able to keep that love, untainted by any fear I might pass down to her. And the thing is, she was bitten once, too. Not as badly as I was, but still bitten — and she cried for a moment and then dried her tears, toddled back over to the biting dog and said something that sounded not unlike “I forgive you.”
The green galoshes come to a halt mere inches from the puppy, and my daughter holds out her hands.
“God,” she says. And then, “Dog. Dog, Mama. Doggie.”
And I wonder: was she saying “God” all this time, when I thought she was reversing “dog?” Does she know both words, was she choosing to say “God?” I watch her as she pets the puppy, her fingers licked by a wet tongue. Perhaps she sees God in this little dog, all creation showing forth the splendor of the Creator. Perhaps she sees God in every facet of this beautiful, rain-washed day.
The owner still doesn’t seem to know what to do with us, but I decide to extend him the benefit of the doubt: perhaps he’s just shy. We play with the puppy for a few minutes, and when I sense the owner’s had enough, I coax my daughter to move on. She reluctantly turns to trudge up another hill, her galoshes schlepping through the mud. And as if in an answer to a silent prayer, we spot another dog on the crest of the next small hill, out playing with its owner, this time a woman.
“God! God!” My daughter cries, and the woman lifts a hand and waves. The green galoshes are one again a mere blur beneath my daughter’s enthusiastic little legs, and I watch her as she flies.