Well, Hello Stranger.
Wow, a week since my last post. Really? I have folders of photos to base other posts on, but work has been busy-busy and I have lacked wherewithal by the time night rolls around. And that night is rolling around earlier and earlier, innit? Well, no matter: roughly a week until the shortest day of the year. Then we begin the slow climb out. Right? One of these years I'll buy little ice cleats to wear for runs and then I'll be a little less skittish of the icy spots/resentful of those who do not clear their paths.
Today had some lovely bright spots to it: first, I got to meet a customer who bought several prints for his two year old's room, after seeing the framed versions hanging in the hospital. Yay! Those were his first art purchases, to boot and he was pretty excited. The girl characters in some of my designs reminded him of his daughter. "Before I had kids, I didn't love them, but once we had her, she's just amazing. And her personality is like mine, but she looks just like my wife. She's a risk taker, more of a tomboy, loves animals." I *love* to think of a little girl, growing up with my woodblocks around her, feeling they are hers! What a fun idea. And she'd probably have completely different ideas about them than I do: different rules, names, back-story, etc. Or maybe they'd merely be background to her and she would barely notice them on a conscious level, but later in life, having been within the fabric of her younger years, they'd surface, unexpectedly.
I also had the opportunity to spend time with a good friend of mine. For the first hour, a babysitter entertained the little girls downstairs, while we got to catch up, sip wine and nibble on olives and havarti. Songs and vehement protests periodically drifted up, at which point, we'd pause and raise an eyebrow; nothing escalated. Eventually, the sitter ventured off into the night and the little ones hung about the stairwell. They know me, but there's usually a gap between visits, rendering me something of a disruption.
The younger of the two looks at me somewhat wonderingly. "I didn't know you were HERE."
"Well, I came when you were downstairs. Here I am!" She blinks at me. They both have luxurious, curly hair and wide eyes; they are dressed in matching red velour play suits with gingerbread houses on their tops. The younger one blinks her eyes at me again.
"I am 3 or 4." At first I don't understand her, so she has to repeat herself a couple times. Her elder sister grows impatient and horns in: "I'm FIVE. I can pick her up!" Oh, really? I say. "But I'm not supposed to," she adds.
"You can pick me up," says the younger one. And so I do. She watches the side of my face as I talk to her mother; one little hand reaches around to feel my fingers and navigate my silver rings. I love when little kids do this. Many years ago, in a different life, when I worked in the children's section of Borders Books in downtown Ann Arbor, I would periodically do children's story hour with the wonderfully warm and irreverent Helen Smith. Helen knew how to make all the kids feel liked/loved (well, and really the whole staff for that matter); and could also turn around and deliver some wonderfully wicked cracks. So anyway, she always let me read aloud the picture books I was super excited about. On a few occasions I temporarily inhabited one of those traveling full body character costumes.*
These things are shipped from store to store in a crate type thing, with nary a cleaning between locations. The heads are heavy and have stiff wire underpinnings. Most are too tall for me (try finding someone to play Clifford the Big Red Dog~~). The moment you zip up and hoist up the head, you start sweating bullets. You exude dampness, which calls forth the miasma collectively created by all previous occupants. You feel like you can't get enough air -- but the air you DO get, you don't really want. Think gym socks and remainders of a hoagie, abandoned in the bottom of a gym bag. Your vision is impaired. Your fabric arms are too long, so your "hands" flop about below your proper hands. Someone helps you onto the elevator and you wonder what kind of crowd there will be and what the overriding tone is.
*Ok, so I did an image search and I could only find totally creepy ones. I swear I wasn't creepy. There is also an unfortunately named costume rental place in Philadelphia, called Rent-A-Body. Um, no.
When the little seating arena is full, it's akin to a toddler rock star experience: some pogo with excitement, others shout the character's name -- joyfully/gleefully/emphatically. Some stand immediately in front of you to share the most exciting thing of the moment: new shoes/little brother/they know you/ their age is, their name is. The older attendees were more problematic. The more brazen among them would stand nearby or stride over and without pretense, try to yank off your gloved paw. You'd counter, in your clumsy fashion, though not like you could say anything. If you were lucky, your handler hadn't wandered off and they'd intervene. I never had one successfully reveal me.
My favorites however, were the shy ones. If you waved, they couldn't quite bring themselves to wave back. They were excited, but not sure how to proceed. They held their excitement quietly. Once Helen had settled them down and story hour began, a little one would sit nearby. Sometimes they would start a few inches away, but they would slowly whittle the distance down. A small hand would snake over to pet your furry arm, or a torso would slowly lean until a tousled head was resting on you. Listening to a story, sucking one's thumb, petting the story book character next to them.
Back at the house, the clothing was thankfully less furry and cumbersome. Adult conversation alternated with show-and-tell episodes. I was introduced to Disney princesses and my little Ponies, a Barbie house that was way more substantial than my sister's Malibu beach house or the teetering townhouses of yore. Threeorfour grew dismayed with my lagging Lego attentions. "Looooook. Watch me, this is going to be AWESOME." She combines a pony-tailed figure with solid bricks and wheels. We appreciate the wheel action.
The time for leave-taking arrives. While my friend gathers things elsewhere, I pop into their coat closet. Threeorfour eyes me suspiciously: "What are you DOING?"
"I'm getting my jacket. I'm not leaving this minute. I'm leaving, but you're leaving, too."
"You're leaving with US in OUR CAR."
"No. But I'll see you soon. You're going to decorate a gingerbread house with me." She furrows her brow. She is clearly weighing the situation. Gummi bears redeem the moment. She remembers eating candy at my house. "I eat gummi bears at parties!" This is lovely, this is joyful. I think to check for gummi bears. Shoes are retrieved and freedom of choice is granted.
"I'm wearing POOL SHOES!" Threeorfour happily kicks up her feet. "What?" Mom says, "No~~"
Older sister and I stand a few steps back, observing. Five has appropriate footwear. She leans over to me, to gleefully confide, "She's doing everything WRONG." Her eyes shine. It's good to be five and to know what's what.