Saturdays generally unfold like this:
In the late spring moving toward summer, I might wake up at 7:00, my 9-year-old around 7:30, and our younger, another half-hour to an hour later. (For Christmas I bought her a pajama shirt that says, “If you love me, let me sleep.”) We are happy and relaxed to have woken up to natural light and real birdsong, instead of fake tweeting from the “natural sounds” alarm clock. We enjoy a leisurely breakfast involving plenty of coffee for me and often pancakes. Sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 we get into an enormous argument, usually hinging on a chore the girls must accomplish before running off to play with neighborhood girls in the fort they have dubbed “Mrs. Town.” The chore will be something demanding, such as putting away their clean laundry. Everyone yells and stomps around until we are breathing hard. I put some change in the swear jar, and we move on with our day.
On this Saturday, I have taken two peaceful sips of coffee and cracked open my book when Younger Daughter emerges. Her lips are bright pink. We chat for two and a half minutes, which is about how long I can play it cool. Trying to keep the tone casual, I ask lightly, “What’d you put on your lips?”
“Nothing!” She looks straight in my eyes. Her mouth remains still, no flinches or jerks of dishonesty around her (obviously painted) lips.
“Hummmm,” is my sharp response. I am thrown by the fact that she is either telling the truth or, at barely seven, she has already shed herself of tells. Since either scenario is disconcerting, I immediately opt not to think about it.
Later, in the bathroom, I find two small Tupperwares filled with a thin red liquid.
“Oh yeah, that’s the solution I was working on last night!” Older Daughter enthuses. “It’s Borax solution. Lily put food coloring in it.”
Though it is now clear that my 7-year-old is wearing a mixture of detergent and food coloring and lying about it, I forget about it again.
It is my husband who refuses to be distracted from this development, who insists they dump out the solution and scrub their mouths with paper towels before he will play soccer with them. “It looks weird,” he declares, his categorial reaction to all makeup, and also jewelry. (Bless him! Think of the money we have saved!)
I pass by the bathroom after they’ve traipsed out, lips raw and therefore, to their delight, still bright pink. Two red-streaked rags lay strewn across the countertop, like a harbinger of the hormonal fluctuations that will rule our lives in the next phase, the ones that seem to be bearing down on us as we stand on a chariot track.
A few hours later I have Lily alone in the car, on the way to a birthday party. “Why didn’t you tell me you had that food coloring stuff on when I asked you about it this morning?” I ask. I’m still trying just to sound curious, but a tiny edge lets her know I haven’t forgotten (even though I had, twice).
“Oh, I put it on last night,” she responds, completely guileless. “Before I went to bed. I didn’t know it was still on!”