I did a bad thing today. I took the girls to the park (this was not it) and we had a good, long, time there. On the way home I let Maia pull the wagon part of the way (this was not it either, though it was excruciatingly slow). We inched our way closer to the house, stopping when Maia got stuck or Chloë wanted to pick a leaf or when they both became fascinated with a little girl sitting on her front stoop. Whenever Maia dropped the wagon handle to point to something or pick up a leaf fragment I picked it up hopefully, only to have Maia screech at me until I gave it back to her and we resumed our infinitesimal progress.
I looked longingly at our house several doors down and thought, for some reason, what would happen if I fell down and died right here? I've had a morbid streak the last several months, but this wasn't really about my relationship with death so much as concern about what would happen to the girls if they were suddenly by themselves in the middle of the street. Also I may have been contemplating the likelihood that I would die of old age before we reached the house. So I said to Chloë, "If I got really sick here and couldn't go home with you, you could go home and get Daddy, right?"
"No," she said. "It's too far for me to go alone."
"But if you really had to, you know where it is, right?" I said. "It's right there."
She looked worried. "It's too far."
I gave up. "I suppose you could ask somebody in one of the houses for help."
"No," she said decisively. "All other houses have a dog."
I left it at that. When we finally reached home we put the wagon away and played in the sandbox some and had a bath before dinner, and over the course of the evening it became clear that Chloë had picked up the sniffles that Maia probably got from Eric and that I think I'm developing now. At bedtime, she mentioned her sniffly nose and seemed unusually distressed by it, so I stayed after her bedtime story (the story of the little shoe that fell into the river and how it found a happy home) to snuggle with her.
After a moment or two, she burst out with, "Some houses are too far away and you would have to drive me to them." There may have been more to it than that; at any rate, my Chloë-interpreter hummed quietly and then told me she was worried about what I'd said about getting really sick, particularly since she was now sick herself.
So I said, "Oh, sweetheart. I'm sorry I was talking about that. I'm not going to get that sick. I will always take care of you and keep you safe. And if I did get that sick, Daddy would take care of you." She started crying, and I held her close and said comforting things and told myself to shut my big mouth the next time I think about my own mortality. "And you're not very sick either. You're only a little bit sick. If you did get really sick, we would take you to the doctor or the hospital and they would make you well."
"The doctor would be better," she said, sniffling.
"Well, sometimes the doctor isn't open. Like late at night, like now, they don't see people. But hospitals are good too. I went to the hospital when you were born, and Maia, and they took good care of me, and you, and Maia. And Daddy, too."
She still seemed a little upset. I stroked her hair and hugged her, and I said, "I love you." She nodded. I said, "And you know Daddy loves you too. And there are a lot of other people who do."
She nodded again. "Everyone does."
"That's right," I said.
We snuggled a while longer, and she seemed calmer. After a bit I told her I was going to go do a few things, but I'd come back and check on her later. I went downstairs to do some chores. Not long after, I heard her call, "Mama? I have to poop."
"Go ahead," I called back. "I'll be up in a minute."
When I came upstairs I found Eric had offered to help her and been turned down. "Mama said she would be here in a minute," Chloë was insisting. I sat down on the mat to wait with her.
"That story of the little shoe wouldn't really happen," she said after a minute.
"No," I agreed. "It was a made-up story."
We talked about what I'd been doing downstairs, which led to her asking if I was staying home tomorrow, which led to "Is tomorrow a preschool day?" (I have a post in the works about preschool.) "I go to school on Tuesdays and Fridays. Just like French fries!"
Eventually she did her business and we went back to her bed. I snuggled with her for a few more minutes--"How about two more minutes?" she said, holding up two fingers, and I agreed. She held onto me at first, and then shifted, and then turned over so that only our heads were touching, her "cuddle" blanket between us. When I said it was time for me to go, she said sleepily, "Has it been two minutes?" I said yes, and she nodded and turned again, pulling her blanket over her shoulder. I kissed her temple and left the room, and the next time I checked on her she was fast asleep.