Yesterday you turned five and a half. You woke up in our bed and I relayed the news, this number clutched from the air. You said, "It's my birthday?" Half birthday, I said. Halfway between five and six, between the first COVID cases in Los Angeles and, if we are extremely lucky, the first vaccines needled into an upper arm. "Will we have cake?" you wanted to know.
Time, at five and a half, is a torturous trip from popsicle to popsicle; there is so much waiting for all of us. Numbers are tricksters: the days since you were born, the days I've been in remission, the days in a row I've unrolled a yoga mat, the anniversaries that sideswipe me, a hit and run. I promised I would write you letters every month, and I haven't. I've written about myself instead, though you write me into new shapes every day. Today I am a net, full of holes, lightly shimmering.
I tried to run a science lesson for you and the girls next door. We poured water in empty spaghetti sauce jars and dripped in food coloring. You all wanted to use all the colors, none of you believing red or yellow would be beautiful on its own. I poured olive oil on top and screwed three lids on tight. We shook and shook and watched the oil split into tiny bubbles, three murky ponds. I searched my phone for what scientific principles we were witnessing, read you something as you ran off.
Later, we scootered to a coffee shop, where I made you wait outside. I knocked on the glass and smiled through my mask to let you know: I'm still here. There was more sugar, more concern over who got what. You blew bubbles in your water cups and pondered what you might turn them into. Telescopes for your box fort, or a kindergartner's version of beer pong.
At five and a half, everything is a treasure, and everything is trash: lessons, meals, the movie we just paid $6 to rent. Play-Doh and cheese ground into the floor. Easy come, easy go.
"Look, the sun went away," one of you said at a corner. "It made shade for us." We stood in the starburst shadow of a palm tree.
We watched the same sun dip behind a different palm in the evening. "The moon is in the pool," you said. At five and a half, you love space and Stormtroopers and Jupiter and talking with a loud voice. The power, the gravity. (Your pitch goes up when you see a cat or Penny, the neighborhood chihuahua mix. The girls have taught you the noises girls make, and together you are your own planet.)
Nino and Gracia fed us salad and rice balls next to the pool. You gunned for cake. You leapt from the edge of the pool into Mama's waiting arms.
It's been five months since we had a babysitter. Sometimes you go next door. Stand in their small neat kitchen. The food smells. The rinsed yogurt containers waiting to be recycled. Their kitten doing flips on the tile. Mama and I wait in our living room in the strange quiet. It's never more than thirty minutes before you burst back in, and our upside down world rights itself, and I feel the familiar exhaustion that I mistake for equilibrium.
Last night Nino said he'd watch you one or two nights a week. I cried: our knight on a sleek unicorn. But no, that's not quite right, or that's too European, too gendered. What I felt was something humbler, more Eastside: The unintentional communities are as important as the intentional ones. I want you to grow up knowing this--that who you let in and seek out can be more like magic and less like a job interview.
I drove you to sleep beneath the treed streets that edge Pasadena. You murmured about Cheetos.