My mom stops working. She hears me call my grandmother “mommy” and pretty much makes her decision on the spot. She is mommy — she is not about to cede that title.
I am happy that she is home. She reads books as I sit with her, surrounded by her arms, watching her turn pages past familiar pictures of Lowly Worm and other Richard Scarry characters that I cannot remember now, past fairy tale illustrations in Little Golden Books and drawings of Mother Goose characters.
She plants a garden in the backyard of our run-down apartment building, and I sit outside in the dirt with her, dropping seeds into holes dug in the soil. Months later, sunflowers grow eight feet tall, and I want to hug them, these things that are so much bigger than me that we made. We grow green beans, tomatoes, peas, lettuce, basil, but the sunflowers are my favorite, with their brilliant golden halos that make me smile.
She buys me finger paints, and I wear a smock with brown flowers on it and sit in the driveway with huge sheets of newsprint and make a royal mess. My streaks of red, green and blue are treasured and praised, but they disappear once I have finished them, and I never see them in the house. I imagine them now in garbage cans, crumpled, paint bleeding onto the silver metal of the trash bin.
My dad is there, too. He builds a slide out of plywood, with a circular opening underneath the ladder that leads into a little room made just for me. I love this slide. He smiles when he sees me, and holds me up in a beam of sunlight streaming into the living room. “Charge!” he yells, and I laugh. We go sledding in the snow that falls, hiking in the woods that begin at the top of our street, where it dead-ends. We go to the laundromat, where the whir of washers and dryers is relaxing and I lose all sense of time, and then we stop at the candy store on the way back home.
We begin building a calendar, my dad and I. He cuts a strip of white construction paper, bends it into a circle and tapes the ends together. I am confused. He hangs it on the wall above my door, just one tiny ring of paper. I ask what we are doing. The next day, I cut a second strip and my dad bends it into a circle, attaching it to the previous day’s ring. It is January 2.
My mom has been getting fat. In May, when my dad and I have created a chain of paper links that loops around two walls of my room, with a different color for each month, white and pink and green and aqua and orange, she goes to the hospital and brings home my sister.