An Afternoon with Cora

May 9, 2021

Cora was visiting her grandparents’ house in Maine. She had taken a nap in the car on the way home from an outing, and so she didn’t take a nap later in the afternoon – but her older sister was tired, and did take a nap.

Peter was watching Cora, or at least, he was trying to watch her. I was supposed to be napping upstairs with Annie, but I was awake.

I heard the soft footsteps on the stairs long before I saw anything. Thump-thump, thump-thump, and then some panting because the stairs were long and steep. And then a very quiet voice, saying in a happy sing-song way to itself, “I’m going to wake up Annie, I’m going to wake up Annie…”

I lay there, waiting to see what would happen next.The voice came nearer, and then got quiet. I saw a shadow on the doorframe, and then it retreated. There were some scuffling noises. Then the shadow reappeared, and then retreated again.

There were heavier steps on the stairs now. Peter’s voice, saying in a hushed voice, “Cora, what are you doing?”

“I’m waking up Annie!” Cora explained brightly.

I couldn’t hear Peter’s response to this, but I heard Cora’s enthusiastic glee turn sour very, very quickly. There were more scuffling noises. Then, “No! No! I want to wake up Annie! Noooooo!” Annie’s eyelids fluttered open and then closed again. “NOOOOOO! NOOOOO!” continued Cora’s voice, and then the No’s gave way to inarticulate shrieking, which echoed through the house and faded, slowly, down the staircase.

I waited, but the No’s continued even downstairs. Eventually they stopped. I looked at Annie, who continued to sleep soundly.

A few minutes passed by.

Soft footsteps on the stairs again. She had escaped.

This time she only made it just past the top of the staircase before she was caught.

“NOOO! NOOOOO!” she shrieked. This time I could see Peter battling with her, trying to hold onto her and keep her quiet, and failing miserably. Annie’s eyes fluttered open again, but then she went back to sleep again.

“Just leave her,” I mouthed at him. He put her down and retreated downstairs.

“Noooo. Noooo,” Cora sobbed, for unclear reasons. She found a pacifier and I heard sucking, and she calmed down a little. There was silence for a few more minutes.

The small shadow returned to the doorway, and then retreated. It came again, and then retreated again.

And then I heard growling.

The growling continued.

At least it’s not roaring, I thought. Cora has been into roaring lately, too.

The growling subsided, then returned, then subsided again.

After a few moments, I saw her little form walk over to the staircase to go downstairs.

“Cora,” I said. Annie had been sleeping long enough that I didn’t feel too strongly we needed to keep her asleep.

Cora turned around and stared at me, wide-eyed. “Mommy!” she said in surprise. She ran into the room, overjoyed. “DADDY, WE THOUGHT MOMMY WAS SLEEPING BUT SHE IS NOT, SHE IS JUST READING!” she bellowed at the top of her lungs. Next to me, Annie’s eyes fluttered open again. She tossed and turned, pulled the blanket up over her head, and snuggled back to sleep.

“Shh,” I said. “Annie’s still sleeping. Let’s go downstairs, okay?”

“Okay! Yes, let’s go downstairs, Mommy!”

“Cora, were you growling just now?” I asked as we were going downstairs.

“No, I was crying,” she clarified.

“Yes, but after that.”

“I was crying because I wanted to wake up Annie and Daddy said I could not wake up Annie.”

“Yes, I know, I heard. You were screaming. But were you growling, too?”

“No, I was not growling,” she said.

“Then after you finished crying, what were you doing?”

“I was crying… and then I was growling,” she explained.

Downstairs, we soon found ourselves outside, where Cora could expend her exuberance for life. We ran around, found some mint to eat, ran around, ate some more mint, and then discovered a daffodil that was past its prime.

“I am going to get a cup of water,” said Cora. “I will drink some of it, and then I will come outside again.”

That was exactly what she did, bringing the cup of water outside.

“Plants need water,” she explained. She forgot about the daffodil because there were more pressing needs for the water. She dumped it out on a bed of lily of the valley, and then went back inside for more. She made this trip a half-dozen times until we discovered the outdoor faucet, and then she filled up her plastic cup over and over and over, dozens of times. Never slacking, she watered: the dandelions growing in cracks on the patio; the slabs of rock that made up the patio; the lily of the valley; a few potted flowers (they never got a lot of water, though; she gave the lion’s share to the dandelions); and most importantly, the gravel underneath the outdoor faucet. She frequently turned on the water, filled up her cup, and then dumped it onto the gravel. Maybe it was inferior water and she felt the dandelions deserved better, or perhaps the gravel seemed too dry to her. At one point, she was so concerned about a particular dandelion that she force-fed it from the cup, shoving its sunny face into the cup of water, her fingers pinching its slender stem just below the head, as she drenched it with the water.

“Oh! It died,” she said, staring down at her palm after she had finished. The stem had broken and the dandelion head lay in her little hand.

“Oh, that’s too bad!” I said.

“It’s okay,” she said, consolingly. “Don’t worry. It’s okay, Mommy. There’s another one.” She was already moving towards the water spigot to fill up the cup again.

After she had been hard at work for a little while, it occurred to her that I might want a job to do. She knew how she felt when she had to sit around and watch me do a task. It was no fun! She filled up the cup again, just a quarter of the way up (maybe she was worried I would spill it), and handed it to me. “There you go, my sweetie,” she said. “Now, please dump it on the flowers over here, my sweetie. Come here.”

I followed her down a path to some daffodils that were holding their heads up high, clearly doing well and in no need of any outside help at that moment. “Now, dump it on that one, my sweetie,” she said, gesturing to the clump of daffodils.

I did my best, pouring the little water in the cup onto a couple of daffodils.

“Now that one,” she said gently, pointing to another daffodil.

“I can’t, I used up all the water,” I said.

I could tell from her expression that I was supposed to have been more stingy with the water, rather than dumping it all out at once. But she patiently took me back to the spigot and filled up the cup again for me, this time one-third of the way full.

“Come on, my sweetie,” she said.

“I like that you call me your sweetie,” I said. “Am I your sweetie?”

“Yes, you are my sweetie and I am your sweetie,” she answered. We arrived back at the daffodils. “Now pour it on those ones.” She gestured at some other daffodils.

I poured the water across a few different daffodils, giving them each a little bit.

She watched me in horrified disbelief. “No! Not that way! You have to put it on the other ones!” She took the cup back. It was clear that I had lost my privileges with the cup. I was not clear what I had done wrong, but it was clear I had done something wrong, and had lost my responsibilities. I hung my head sadly as I was relegated back to watching, and Cora took over the watering again.