I didn't even know she was upset. She was chattering away as I was poking around in the paper bags my husband had brought in from their trip to the store.
She walked past me in her usual flair; with a kind of brisk pounding of feet and a dramatic flounce of hair as she trudged down the hall to her room.
"She's packing ... " my husband said to me a few minutes later as I was putting away the groceries. "She says she wants to leave."
Before she stormed out I had heard her voice chirping away, flittering between octaves "... ip ip ip ip ip ..." as I opened and closed the refrigerator door, "ip ip ip ip ip ip" as I folded another emptied bag and stowed it beneath the island with the other recyclables. "Ip ip ip ip ip ip ip. ..." I really hadn't been listening.
I roll my eyes. I don't want to deal with another tantrum.
By the time I finished and found my way to her room, we bumped into each other at the door. I was going in ready for a fight and she was coming out ready for flight. She'd slung my old drawstring backpack over her shoulder, filled to the brim. The bag was bigger than she was.
She was crying.
The fight had gone out of me when I saw her eyes. She was earnest, and it had been a long day.
I asked her to talk to me, to sit in her room and discuss what had happened. I took the pack from her shoulders when she tearfully agreed.
As we sat on her bed, a tiny lifetime of upset streamed out with her tears.
Upset that seemed to go back as far as the hospital ... when she was born.
"I remember another mother. Not you. A mother who was nicer to me. Who listened to me. Who didn't just SAY she was going to do something she DID it.
That's the mother I'm going off to find."
I listened as the story brought her to my pregnancy with Silas, and how she really wanted a girl ... How she wanted to share her room and her toys, and talk about girl things, and sing girl songs ... and how she got a boy.
"But I was happy because everyone else was happy. I wasn't happy though. I wanted a sister and YOU GAVE ME A BROTHER!
"My real mother would have given me a sister."
For a moment I felt sorry for her. Poor unloved little waif who waits (somewhat) patiently for her mother to get up from behind her computer and get her a glass of milk, damnit, only to have to ask thirteen thousand times. ... Or eighteen thousand, depending on who you ask.
She was right. Everyone wants to hug Silas, they all say how cute Silas is, remark on how funny Silas is, how patient Silas is, how loveable Silas is ... She has become invisible.
I look over at the backpack, it's filled with clothes from her dresser, but not a single toy. She's serious about leaving.
"I'm just a rotten egg," she wails.
When I was her age (maybe slightly older), I ran away from home. Twice.
The first time I got only as far as the front stoop. It was raining in sheets and I didn't want to get wet. The second time I got all the way to the mailbox, where a neighbor, noticing me just standing there with my plaid suitcase (that black and red pattern and faint smell of vinyl forever etched in my mind) packed tight with toys and clothes, asked what brought me there.
I told him I was running away from home. He laughed a little, then mentioned I really hadn't gotten that far. I told him it was as far as I could go since I wasn't allowed to cross the street.
It's hard to assert yourself when you’re five.
Annabel doesn't seem to have my problem though, she just has my number.
"You're not a rotten egg. You know that," I tell her ... hoping something brilliant will come to me as I'm feeling around for an answer that will make everything all right.
It doesn't. All I can tell her is I'm sorry she feels the way she does, and I'll try to do better. I remind her of how her brother lights up when he sees her ... not us but her. And I admit that she has every right to feel sad, and to even demand attention. Fair is fair.
"Why don't you come with me to the store. Your father forgot the lemons. You come with me. We'll get a special and some time to ourselves."
"O.K.," she said unsteadily. "I'll go, but what about my bag?"
"We'll just leave it for when we get back. I'll help you unpack."