If you were to ask me what I want Ittybit to be when she grows up, I couldn’t really (or rightly) say.
I could only recite all the clichés known to mom, and you've probably already heard them: I want her to be happy. I want her to have integrity. I want her to be kind and loving and generous. I want her to use her mind and never let people with ill-intent screw with it.
One of the most difficult things to explain to a four-year-old (or even a forty-year-old for that matter) is the question: "Why don't they like me?”
It’s in my explanation that I hear my own mother's voice waft out of my throat: "Honey, they just don't know you. If they got a chance to know you they'd like you.”
And it is in her reply that my own voice echoes back: "No, mom. I don't think they would."
It breaks a mother’s heart to watch her child run from one group of children to the next, hoping to be included in their games, and finding only quizzical faces and flying hair as the bodies attached run in an opposite direction.
“Why won't they play with me?” she asks before breaking down in tears.
I know it's because kids are like that. Even she can be like that. They can’t hide their bewilderment nor can they veil their reactions. They haven't the means of deception using polite smiles and fingers crossed behind their backs ... not just yet anyway.
So there we are she and I, sitting hip to hip, rocking on the hillside. I have no words of wisdom. I have no advice other than to tell her to persevere.
I know she doesn't want to just run with the gangs of youngsters that flock from hill to hill. She doesn't want to just be in their general vicinity. She wants to lead them and influence their play. She's got big ideas, this little boss lady of mine.
She’s also got alternate plans.
"Maybe if I play with my play picnic food someone will come up and want to play with it, too,” she says, her excitement returned.
But as the minutes go by in our staged picnic of wooden meats, fish, cheeses and vegetables, no one was enticed.
"I know! I'll get my stickers and hand them out. Maybe then they'll play with me."
I pull the sheets of colorful stars from my bag and she makes another run toward the children. She wordlessly holds out her offering. Some of the kids come closer. Some of the younger ones, prompted by their mothers, wordlessly accept. Others just say "No, I don't want any stickers."
In the end this becomes a game she plays with herself. She no longer needs the children. She only needs the stickers.
“I have to find more people. I have to make sure EVERYONE gets a sticker!" she tells me. And then she's gone. I catch a glimpse of her teal shirt, which, from a distance, looks perfectly free of the cherry-ice stains and ground-in dirt I know from several washes now are permanent.
She is milling about the clusters of adults sipping wine from glasses and waiting for the line at the buffet to draw inward. She is asking them if they'd like to choose a sticker.
Most oblige. Who can say no to a little girl bestowing self adhesive gifts?
Finally, she meets the only girls at the party willing to play her games: A trio of bluegrass singers hired to entertain - Those Darlins.
And they were. Darling.
From their patch of grass in front of the performance space, the singers and their friends accepted her stickers. They played with her picnic foods and juggled for her. They danced with her and played word games. They played and hide ‘n seek, and made sure to find her.
When it was time for their show to go on, Ittybit danced in the front row. They dedicated a song to their biggest (and littlest) fan. She was walking on air.
And she took every opportunity - every lull in the performance - to hug each one of them around the knees (often encircling their guitars, too).
It's every mother's dream for her children to reach for the stars. ... And it would be mine, too. I just wish she didn't have to be so literal.
“I know it looks like play, Ittybit, but really it's work. Let's just wait until the music starts again. And we'll dance."