If you were to ask me what I want Annabel to be when she grows up, I couldn't really say.
I could only tell you all the clichés, 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?
I hear my own mother's voice come out of my throat: "Honey, they just don't know you."
It breaks a mother’s heart to watch her child run from group to group, hoping to be included and finding only quizzical faces and flying hair as the bodies attached run in an opposite direction.
"Why won't they play with me?"
I know it's because kids are like that. Even she can be like that. There's nothing to be done but hold your head up and move on.
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.
But I know she doesn't want to just run with the gangs 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.
"Maybe if I play with my play picnic food someone will come up and want to play with it, too."
But as the minutes went 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 runs 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."
And this becomes the game she plays with herself. She no longer needs the children. She just 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 cherry-ice stains and ground in dirt. She is milling about the clusters of adults sipping wine from glasses and waiting for the line at the buffet to draw inward, asking them if they'd like to chose a sticker.
Who can say no to a little girl bestowing gifts?
Finally, she meets the only girls at the party willing to play.
And they were. Darling.
From their patch of grass in front of their performance space, the girls played with Annabel. Their friends juggled for her and played with her picnic foods. They accepted stickers. They danced with her and played hide and seek. They made sure to find her.
When it was time for their show to go on, she danced in the front row.
She was walking on air.
They dedicated a song to their biggest (and littlest) fan.
And she took every opportunity - every lull in the performance - to hug one of them around the knees (often encircling their guitars, too).
It's not every mother's dream for her children to reach for the stars, I suppose. ... But I don't really mind. I just wish Annabel didn't have to be so literal.
"I know it looks like play, Annabel, but really it's work."