I find Lucy chilling on the porch glider. She's wearing a rainbow romper, which she later tells me is her party outfit because it's so colorful. We'd agreed to wear hats on our lunch date and her's is new -- grey felt. Mine's straw and squished because I can't have nice things. I leave it at home. I am wearing the closest thing I have to a tutu and brown bootie moccasins. I'm hoping she'll be inspired by the latter and beg Chrissie for a pair. They have purple ones at Target that would be adorbs.
She hops into the backseat of the car and fastens her seatbelt. She's moderately stoked that "We Are Young" is on the radio, but doesn't sing along. I peek at her in the rear view mirror, terrified that someone else's living, breathing almost-kindergartner is in my hands. "What will we talk about?" I'd texted Chrissie earlier. "Just follow her lead," she responded.
Lucy's staring out the window and then suddenly bursts with tons of info for me: She can tie her shoes, she knows what 10+10 equals, she can read. Her brother couldn't do any of these things before kindergarten, she says.
The restaurant parking lot is a terrifying place to wander with a 5-year-old. She's so much shorter than me. We're going to have to wait, so we sit outside on a ledge and play rock, scissors, paper. I learn that Mickey Mouse trumps paper, but not scissors because scissors can run. We take our shoes off for awhile, then put them back on. When we play rock, scissors, statue another kid walks past and eyes us enviously. Lucy gets a Fruit Gusher stuck in her teeth which won't officially dislodge until she's eaten her chicken. She'd stolen the Gushers from her uncle, she tells me. We try to make the other one laugh, first one to laugh wins.
"It can't be a fake laugh," she warns me.
I think back to the 23 times she's laughed today and wonder which ones were fake.
We get a spot at the counter and I have no idea if she can read a menu. If she can't, she definitely deserves an Academy Award. She closes her menu and tells me she's getting chicken tenders. "Fruit or fries?" I ask her. "Fruit," she says and I'm impressed. She gets a cantaloupe, a watermelon, a strawberry and a blackberry.
"I haven't had one of these in forever," she tells me, cooing over the blackberry on the end of her fork.
She gives me the strawberry and tells me the watermelon is the most delicious thing she's ever eaten. When our food comes, she's more interested in my stack of French Toast covered in cinnamon apples and whipped cream. We both lean over my plate digging at it and I try to remember if I've heard anything about her being allergic to nuts. "I love nuts," she tells me when I ask, like it's insane that someone would be allergic to them. When she isn't looking I steal a bite of her chicken. We discuss the anatomical construction of a chicken's feet -- those aren't thumbs, they're big toes -- and she hops off her chair to use the little ladies room.
I panic again.
"How old is she?" a woman asks when she's gone.
"Five," I say.
"She reads very well," the woman says. "She's very energetic."
"She's a whiz," I tell her. "She's not mine."
"My granddaughter is one," she says. "I can't wait til she's her age."
Lucy's still not back so I freak out a little bit and hope she didn't escape out the window. I can see her, a blur of stripes, pulling a jail break. For the second time today I silently pray, though all these years later it is more like an incantation addressed to Jesus. I jump off my chair and peek into the bathroom. She's at the sink washing her hands.
"Hi," I say.
"Hi," she says.
She returns about two minutes later and accuses me of stealing her fork, which she actually abandoned in the middle of my plate and which is now sticky.
She wants to see who can swivel their chair faster. (Me). She wants to do this and do that. She tells me she's hallucinating and when I ask her what that means she says she is surrounded by 240 Christas. I recognize that she is going car crazy, so I hurry along the waitress and we leave.
Back at my house we have a mini gymnastics competition in the front yard and one of the triplets watches us and wants to play along. "I can do a cartwheel," she tells us. I encourage her to give it a go, realizing too late that she's wearing a dress and has just flashed the entire neighborhood. I can't remember at what age this becomes inappropriate, so I direct all of my attention back to Lucy and relieve myself of the responsibility of every other child in the neighborhood.
Lucy's cartwheels are better than mine, but she can't do a front walk over so I suppose I win for now.
I introduce her to Orin and then it is game over. These two forge a fast friendship while Hal eyes her suspiciously. She tells Orin to "sit" and seems disappointed that he doesn't respond to the simplest of tricks. Still, she pets him like crazy and takes to calling him "Buddy." Unlike me, she isn't terrified by his claws or this new flesh nibbling phase he's going through.
I wonder if her mom, allergic to cats, is going to kill me when I return her child, now covered in cat hair.
When Lucy's gone I kick a soccer ball around with the 5-year-old from next door. Then I sit on the porch glider and read a comic book. On this day, all I will do is play.