Mornings with the Girls

February 25, 2021

It is morning time. The girls are getting dressed before going downstairs for breakfast. Annie has tried on five different dresses and rejected them all for various reasons. She is putting on the dress she wore to school two days ago – and, having learned my lesson in the past, I am not putting up much of a protest. She assures me she will put away all the dresses she tried on, and I feel confident that they will still be on the floor this evening. We argue briefly about whether or not she has to wear leggings under her dress (yes; it is winter) and whether she should wear socks that just cover her heel, or ankle-height socks (the right answer is ankle-height socks, but Annie disagrees). We have a tradition of arguing about these things every day.

Cora likes to make a snap decision about her clothes for the day, and then stick with the decision at all costs. This is great if it’s a normal shirt or sweater, but unfortunate if it is a nightgown. Today she has chosen her skull-and-crossbones shirt to wear, which is a little alarming, since she often chooses clothing to reflect her mood.

Then she goes over to choose her pair of socks from her sock bin. I take out a pair of pink socks with little bizarre-looking white rabbits on them.

“Nooo,” says Cora in a whiny voice. “I don’t want that one. I want this one.” She pulls out a single blue sock that has no matching sock, that has never had a matching sock, that as far as I know was created as an individual sock for a one-footed child. She pulls it onto her foot upside-down, so the heel of the sock is on the top of her foot.

“Ok,” I say, starting to fix the sock so it’s on her foot the right way.

“Nooo, I do it,” she says, jerking her foot away. She tries to straighten it and just gets frustrated. “Mommy, help,” she says finally, and I twist it around her foot. I pull out a sock that has pink and blue on it and try to slip it onto her other foot without her noticing it.

Cora does not let it touch her foot. “No, not that one! That one does not match!”

“I don’t have the matching sock,” I say, frustrated.

“We left it in New Zealand,” says Cora, sadly shaking her head.

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“How about these socks?” Annie suggests, pulling out a completely different pair of socks.

“Yes. I will wear these ones.” Cora rips off the blue sock that took so long to get onto her little foot, and throws it on the floor. Then Annie attempts to get the new socks on her sister’s feet. Cora patiently holds her feet up in the air, at an awkward angle, while her sister tugs the socks on. She would never hold her foot up like this for me.

After a while Annie succeeds in getting the socks on. Cora, meanwhile, reaches into the sock bin again and pulls out the last remaining matching pair of socks, and pulls it apart.

“What are you doing?” I ask in a whisper, a sense of dread descending on my heart.

“I am putting these socks on my hands,” she says, pulling the socks onto her hands. “I am playing Sock Chompers.” She smiles, as disarmingly as she can manage.

“Noooo!” Annie shrieks, and runs to the other end of the room. “I don’t like Sock Chompers, Cora,” she says petulantly.

“I don’t like it either,” I say, eyeing the socks. “No one likes Sock Chompers.”

“I will be gentle,” she says in an aggrieved tone, and then grins. “Chomp! Chomp!” she cries, and a Sock Chomper chomps me on the arm.

“Aaaauuugh!” I cry.

She pauses, looking aggrieved again. “I do it gentle,” she points out. “I am doing it gentle.” Cora often corrects herself when her grammar is incorrect, even in critical situations like this. She feels that good grammar and appropriate pronunciation are paramount.

“I know. I’m just pretending,” I reassure her.

“Oh, you’re just patending!” she cries, laughing loudly. “Chomp! Chomp!” The Sock Chompers strike again. They tend to get a little less gentle the more they chomp so I get up quickly. “Cmon, girls, time to go down for breakfast!”

Cora’s bright eyes move around the room and settle on her sister. She waves her hands in a gesture that is both friendly and menacing. She takes a few steps towards Annie. Annie squeals in terror and runs away. At this point Cora can no longer resist. “Chomp! Chomp!” she cries, in hot pursuit, sock hands pinching the air.

Downstairs, Annie is hiding in a corner, where she is barricaded behind some chairs. Peter is cooking oatmeal. Cora loses interest after chomping her father and finding herself unable to catch her sister. Someone comes up with the idea for music.

“I am a pirate so we listen to pirate music,” Cora announces. “What did I say when I was a baby?” She starts laughing.

Having heard the question many times before, I understand what she is looking for. “You used to sing, ‘Fifteen men on a rest, yo ho bottew rum!’” I say.

Cora bursts out laughing. She loves to think about how much she has matured, and what a big kid she is now, compared with when she was a baby. “I used to say-” she adopts a very high-pitched voice- “‘yo ho bottew rum’ instead of ‘yo ho ho and a bottle of rum’!”

“You were so cute!” I say. “Now you’re such a big kid.”

“Tell Alexa to play that song,” she commands.

“You tell her,” I say.

“I can’t!” she wails. “You do it!”

“Alexa, play ‘yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,’” I say, and the song starts playing. Cora’s face lights up. Suddenly both kids are dancing, and then they are running backwards and forwards from the kitchen to the sunroom, thundering back and forth. When it finishes, since they are having such a good time, I tell Alexa to play “Dinosaur Stomp,” another favorite dance song. 

“Yay! Yay!” cries Cora, stomping her feet in wild excitement. Then she catches sight of her pirate shirt. A cloud seems to move in front of the sun.

“I am not wearing a dinosaur dress!” she says. “I need to wear my dinosaur dress!”

“You don’t have to wear clothes to match the music,” I tell her. 

This is the wrong thing to say because it isn’t true. Her clothes DO have to match the music. That’s the rule. The cloud in front of the sun is turning into a stormcloud.

“C’mon, Cora,” I say, stomping around in an imitation of a dinosaur.

“Do the dinosaur stomp! Stomp! Stomp!” bellow the singers. “Do the dinosaur chomp! Chomp! Chomp!”

I pretend to chomp my teeth.

Cora’s face crumples and her bottom lip trembles and juts out. Tears start to leak from her eyes.

“It’s ok, Cora,” says Annie, and gives her sister a hug.

Cora tries to stutter out a sobbing explanation to her sister but between the tears and the music it is hard to understand her. 

“Do the dinosaur roar!” the music commands.

I shout at the device to silence it. Cora is trying to pull off her clothes, still fixated on her dinosaur dress, which also has pockets. It is hard for Cora to resist pockets or hoods and these are major draws when she is choosing her clothing. The pirate shirt does not have any pockets and it does not have a hood. Things are not looking good for the pirate shirt.

But Annie is whispering in her sister’s ear and the cloud passes, as suddenly as it came. The two girls race back to the sunroom and we immediately hear the sounds of furniture shifting.

“No, girls, it’s almost time for breakfast! It’s a school day! We don’t have time for this!” I say.

“Aww, Mom,” says Annie, just like a classic TV kid. We don’t know where she picked this up.

“We are building a Dark City!” Cora announces. Both children continue to shift furniture.

I sigh. My life as a doctor involves weighing the risks and benefits of various courses of action, and my life as a mom is very similar, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of different courses of action. Building a Dark City keeps the girls entertained and occupied. It will give me time to help Peter make lunches for everyone. But it means Peter or I will have to move every single piece of furniture back where it belongs, after the kids go to school. I decide it’s worth it, and say no more about it, but leave them to their creation.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, all the furniture has been moved in such a way that our open-floor-plan house has been partitioned into many smaller rooms, none of which has a door or entryway. The stools that live under the overhang of our island have been moved out and lined up so that it is impossible to get from the kitchen into the living room. A line of chairs, including a large heavy Adirondack chair and a wooden bench (how could they possibly move the Adirondack chair or the wooden bench?), separates the eating area from the sitting area of the sunroom. A smaller wall of kids’ chairs and another Adirondack chair walls off the corner of the room where they have their toy kitchen. The only way to get from one place or another is to climb over chairs or to move them. But if someone moves them, they are moved back into place instantly. If you walk from the living room into the kitchen, bringing something that needs to be tidied up, and you shift a stool out of the way, walk to the sink, and turn around to walk back to the living room, the wall will have re-formed as if by magic. And you will likely trip over a stool. 

“Why is it called a Dark City again?” I ask.

“I dunno,” says Annie, shrugging. “It’s just what we call it. Cora named it.”

“Cora? Why is it called the Dark City?” I’ve asked this before but never managed to get a good answer.

“I’m not Cora. I’m Rosebud!” says Cora.

“Sorry, I forgot.” Cora changed her name to Rosebud about a week ago. She periodically changes her name, and expects everyone to keep up with it. “Rosebud, why is it called the Dark City?”

“It’s the Dark City!” Cora confirms, clambering over a chair.