We wait nearby on the playground.
We adopt our usual formation of unstable rugby scrum, as everyone appears to have lost the ability to stand independently.
My daughter comes charging up, the last out of her class as usual. She careens towards us, a bowling ball, but I can already see the tears. I brace myself for impact.
“There's been a mix up and I know yur gonna say nooooo!”
I consider this statement to be a sophisticated pre-emptive strike on her part. I already know what is coming, because I too have learned my lesson.
“Now just calm down and breathe a bit dear.”
Her pal is close on her heels.
Her pal's mother, brings up the rear.
“I can't go to her house so can she come to us?” she pleads between sobs.
“Yeah, my mom's busy. I got it wrong.”
“Hi Natalie!” I beam with my teeth but my eyes are hidden by my dark glasses.
“Hello there. What seems to be the problem?”
“I've got stuff to do, so I can't have her, so if you can have em, then I'll taken em tomorrow.”
“That's very kind of you but we have other plans for tomorrow.”
“She can't come tomorrow. O.k. mebbee next week.”
“It’s o.k. I'm happy for her to come home with us.” Home territory is the only safe bet.
“Great. See yah!”
“Could you pick her up at about 5 please?”
I'm not sure if she's heard me but we lumber off in the general direction of the car.
The main topic of conversation between the girls has been the forthcoming birthday celebrations, which have been delayed from December as we trundle through March. Any child that can endure such delayed gratification deserves an award. The plans change and grow, well rehearsed. Whilst the boys are not included in this conversation as such, they are physically present during the many car rides, the giggling and the strategizing. Their social skills percolate up from nowhere in particular, in meticulous detail.
“What colour it is?”
“What colour is what?”
“I don't know.”
“How many kids are be come?”
“I don't know.”
“You gonna go Build a Bear?”
“You gonna go dah Olive Garden?”
“So when it is be?”
“I don know.”
“I thought it was be Saturday?”
“No, it's been canceled for this week.”
I can see her face in the rear view mirror, complete with fallen crest. I am startled that they initiated a conversation, had every fact in place, that she was patient enough to understand them and answer.
It is because I am so dumbfounded by the developmental leap that I'm slow to react, to defend her from their persecution and end the inadvertent torment. A different child might recognize her crumpled state. Another child would realize the shattered dreams and the quake of the tremulous. I look at her diminished and ever shrinking form, on the back seat. I have a sudden urge to hug her or bundle up her sophisticated pre-teen form in several yards of cotton wool.
“Tell you what, once we get home we'll skip homework until later. You can all just play for a while. I'm sure we can find some biscuits or something,” I add, all will power dissolved, brain power at a low ebb.
“She means cookies,” she whispers with glee.
I look in the rear view mirror, my daughter, her pal in the middle and my son on the other side, squished together like sardines in sympathy.