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Rachael Clarke Headshot

My Girl Can Ignite a Fire

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"Tegan, did you poop?"

"No!"

"Yes you did!"

"No!"

"I can smell it!"

"Nooo!"

Such is the life of having a toddler.

She runs toward the kitchen yelling, "Poop! Poop!" as I chase after her. "Potty!" she exclaims, and points to the bathroom.

"Do you want to use the potty?"

"No!" She runs away laughing.

I scoop her up and we dance up the stairs. Her room is an extension of Micah and me, decorated with found objects and sentimental pieces -- an heirloom rocking chair, a blue mason jar with ranunculus, a four-leaf clover. Her curtain is layered cloth napkins. Her art is framed cards and calendar pictures, an acoustic guitar. Butterfly decals fly above her crib. This is my favorite room.

"Socks!" she commands. I take them off. "Kiss!" She lifts mini versions of my feet to my face. "Eyes. Mose. Belly." She points. "Mama?"

"Yes, honey?"

"Outside?"

"You want to go outside?"

"Yes! Shoes! Stroller!"

We go downstairs and I scan the room for our shoes among the balls, plush toys, books and rainbow tutu from Halloween.

It seems so recently I was at her school putting on her costume, my version of a rainbow, which looked more like a cross between a rainbow ballerina and Rainbow Brite. Her friends surrounded us as they touched her tutu, admired the colorful tulle.

"NO!" she yelled, and slapped at their hands like a swatter to flies.

"Your friends can touch your tutu," I said. "You need to learn to share." She bawled.

I hugged her as she clung to me, bunched up and wrinkled her pretty tulle. Hands reached out again, and again she swatted.

"NO!"

"We use nice hands, Tegan!"

When I was 5, a family friend had made the mistake of touching my brand new patent leather shoes.

"What pretty shoes!" she'd exclaimed, and I'd scowled, yanked my foot away.

"Don't touch my shoes." I still remember her shock.

Tegan sobbed as I lifted her away. We had a talk and some mama-daughter time, I fixed her tutu and dried her tears.

Minutes later, she was bouncing and carefree as she walked in her school's Halloween parade, holding hands with her teacher. I admired how, regardless of how far away she was, her costume was the brightest in the school.

"Okay, Tegan, let's go outside."

"Cracker!"

"You want a cracker?" She is somehow already in the kitchen, opening the pantry.

"Cracker! Peas [please]!" She is standing inside, looking up at me with her large, almondy eyes. I am forever doomed to give into this child. Her eyes are exquisite, blue like her father's and able to soften the core of me. It amazes me every time she says "hi" to a stranger and is ignored. "Not everyone says 'hi'," I say, but what I want to say is, "You are so much more than that (not nice name), baby."

I give her a cracker and a kiss. "Dane doo [thank you]," she says, and runs away in search of books.

"Do you want to read this one?"

"No."

"This one?"

"No."

"This one?"

She eventually chooses her favorite of the moment, and I agree it's a wonderful choice.

I read to her, speaking in funny voices, trying to make her laugh. She thinks I'm hilarious. And I think she is perfect.

She is perfect when she dumps her yogurt all over her tray, smushes it around and exclaims, "Mess!" I've never seen such beautiful hands.

She is perfect when she empties her water onto the kitchen floor, lies down and attempts to make a snow angel.

She is perfect when she doesn't want to get into the car/tub/high chair/crib/changing table/another person's arms, and clings to me with surprising strength (and sometimes with surprising sound).

She is perfect when she wakes up 3:00 a.m. and wants me to hold her.

She is perfect when she wakes up at 5:00 a.m. and wants to get up for the day.

She is perfect when she tests her boundaries, when she melts down, when she doesn't listen, when she wants things her way. She is perfect when she's frustrated, when she's tired, when she's stubborn, when she doesn't understand.

She is perfect, always, and so very full of all that is beautiful and good. She is lovely and spirited, affectionate and sweet, silly and so very loving and bright. She is my spunky pants, and sometimes spunky tutu.

I think of myself, how my own spunkiness has been tamed, lessened with politeness and from experience, and I am so glad that the spiritedness has come full circle. To see the life and fire in her, a brightness that can outshine the darkest of days, the most indifferent of hearts.

She's gotten this mama's heart glowing, igniting a fire.