This is how it went:
Indy came home from preschool and told me that her teachers had spent all day trying to find Plants vs Zombies for me. But they hadn't found it.
I find this totally plausible.
We went to Target. “Mom. I'm tired of listening to you all the time,” said Indy. Conversationally, without any real rancor. Here goes the rest of your life, Indy, I thought. Sick of me, yet craving my approval anyway. Sorry about that. Look, it's not my design. Blame the male god.
We get to the dollar section. I tell her she can pick out anything she wants—except candy. Indy literally tears at her her hair. “Ugh! Why do I listen to you all the time!”
Indy: You are different from me. You are so different from me. Please don't spend the rest of your life trying to prove it.
Mr. V orders a second Plants Vs Zombies, because we lost the original. The girls and I watch each other play. One evening, I get to the boss level. Dr. Edgar Zomboss in his big steampunk zombie robot machine comes to kill my plants on my fudging rooftop. I proceed to slay him without hesitation or fanfare.
I am a true hero.
The girls lie in my arms, watching. They cry: Oh, daddy is so good at this level! Daddy kills this guy so good! And (I kid you not) I love daddy when he does this level! I love daddy when he kills the boss!
I feel like tearing my own hair out. “Look at mommy,” I say. “Mommy is killing the boss. See! Mommy killed Dr. Edgar Zomboss.”
“Yeah,” they sigh, giddy. “Daddy does it so good!”
I read a book. It quotes a woman on the banality of playground conversations with other parents, and how they are all the same. The women, she says, all want forgiveness. The men all want applause.
I want forgiveness for everything. I drop Ayla off at kindergarten and nearly cry. I watch her, smiling and playing with her friends. Little Jack her boyfriend, little Isha whom she loves. Next year they'll all be together, without her. Ayla will be at a different school, one we don't have to pay for.
I feel awful. What if I am tearing her away from true love? What if the boys at her new school aren't as nice as these boys? Ayla's whole class gets along. Boys and girls slay zombies with finger guns, boys and girls sit down and play old maid. You know I'm a sucker for gender neutrality. I imagine the boys and girls at her new school like lord of the flies vs mean girls. Separated. Warring. Feral. Right now, her entire class lines up without being told and takes turns at the monkey bars, for heaven's sake. They cheer each other on. They work on art projects together and they all call out, “Hey Ayla, look at mine! Look at mine, Ayla!”
“Oh that's very beautiful,” Ayla says magnanimously to every one. “Oh, I love those colors. Oh, that is a very pretty horse.”
I mean, sweet heaven, what are the odds? Is there any other group of five-and-six-year-olds out there behaving this way?
(I don't know why they all want Ayla to look at their art. She is the oldest and maybe some kind of informal ringleader. Maybe it only happened that once, when I was there to see it. Maybe Ayla paid them smarties to make her look good in front of me, I don't know, I wouldn't put it past her.)
Ayla has six days left at her school. Then it is off to the unknown.
Would I like forgiveness? You bet I would.
I read Ayla Ivy and Bean. I feel bad about her room. I worry ridiculous things—that Ayla was meant to be lifelong friends with her buddy, little Jack. I worry realistic things—that the kids at the new school won't be such gems as these ones.
Mom, Ayla says. I love you with all my heart.
Ayla, I say. I love you with all my butt. Cause it's bigger than my heart.
Ayla laughs until she cries.