And just like that, she’s gone again.
There’s often this little girl at my house, who I got in the bargain when The Husband went friend-hunting a few years ago (as socialites do) and found a friend who’s also a single father to the coolest little girl in this desert square.
I never expected to have a little girl around.
For as long as the mothering urge has been with me, I secretly longed to raise boys. And I got four boys in less than four years.
And now my bathroom smells of death.
I would have loved a little girl just the same, but I never had an idea what I would do with one.
Dress her in pink and take her shopping? Sign her up for dance lessons? Is that … what girls are out there doing?
But this little girl is even tougher than my boys. She climbs onto the trampoline with them, drops to all fours, snatches their ankles and topples them like dominoes. They dogpile her, roughing her hair into a unicorn horn above her ponytail.
She’s a whole foot shorter than my smallest twin, though at 10 years old, she’s six months older than the twins.
She doesn’t shrink from bugs, go-carts or antelope skulls. Oh no, she likes to cart antelope skulls home from these hills and set them, sweetly, on my table as a centerpiece.
She’s the first up the tree, the last one still on the trampoline when the stars ignite.
She’s the last to complain. She doesn’t bat her eyelashes or strut her stuff. She asks for ice cream in her tea without flourish or manipulation.
We do have our girl moments, though.
One autumn afternoon the men went up on the mountain to cut firewood, so I washed my little girl’s hair and gave it a trim. Then I dressed her in a red tunic and leggings. She sniffed her hair, wondering where her sunshine-gasoline musk went.
Last month when her hair begged for mercy from its osprey-nest tangles, I had the idea to get her some braids.
See, when I was about that age, my mother braided my hair into tiny box braids for the summer so that I wouldn’t have to give it a wash or even brush it as I swam in the lake and slept in a truck bed. I remember it so fondly: how she compared me to Bo Derek, how I never had to mess with my hair, how the braids felt between my soft, unharrowed fingers.
So I took my little girl to the hairdresser, where she was scheduled to get cornrows (her choice), and I was supposed to get box braids.
The hairdresser bit her lip.
“Um, well,” she began. “You don’t really have the right hair for this.”
I worried about cultural appropriation, but I assured her we weren’t trying to steal anyone’s tradition: we just hate washing our hair.
“Right,” said the hairdresser. “But when you’re a white girl, your hair will break if you leave it in braids like that all summer.”
My little girl and I looked at one another, studying each other’s white-girl hair with newfound suspicion and disappointment.
“OK,” I said, unwilling to let my girl down. “We’ll get the braids anyway, and we’ll only leave them in for a couple weeks.”
And my little girl looked amazing with cornrows in her honey-colored hair; her giant brown eyes now unobscured for the first time since the day she challenged my boys to a cartwheel race.
But after two weeks, little hairs had bristled free from the braids, making her look like a fuzzy brown Chia Pet, stoic in the wind.
“Let’s get these braids out and rescue that hair,” I said.
“NOOOOOO,” wailed my girl, kicking beach balls backward to stop me from catching up to her.
But I did catch up to her. I snapped her neon rubber bands away and let her riotous ways undo the rest.
As the days grew longer, our time grew short.
Every summer, that little girl leaves the state to spend her vacation time with her mother. She treasures those times, and I wouldn’t steal them from her.
So the boys and I just sigh.
It’s always strange to lose our little girl just as summer gets boisterous, just when it’s time to pop wild onions into our mouths and chase each other around with our rancid dragon breath, just when we swap out the antelope skulls for lilac blossoms, just when we raid my mom’s garden and start up a bicycle gang.
When we reflect on our summer exploits, the boys and I always have to remind each other that our little girl wasn’t there, because we’re always trying to sketch her into our best memories of the season.
That’s because summer, and pluck, and pure joy are exactly who she is.