Zoey is a shy girl, curling between my legs to hide from strangers. She studies the world with her large eyes unblinking, smiling only when she is sure. Of what, I don't know.
Smile! Men have shouted at me from their cars and on sidewalks, an assault of supposed good intentions that makes me scowl into the collar of my coat. I am the girl by the hors d'oeuvres table, the one who excuses herself to find the restroom, the girl you get stuck talking to, except she does not speak. I prefer my gatherings small, not my talk.
Every Sunday we go to a music show for kids called Breakfast with Enzo. Zoey loves Enzo, might be in love with him as only a two year old girl can be with a man who plays the saw. There is a point in his first song when he pauses the accordian and sticks out his hand for the kids to shake. Zoey runs up to shake his hand, then runs back to bury her head in my chest. Then she runs up to shake his hand again, and back, again to Enzo, stands there in front of him long past the pause in the song. She stares at Enzo playing the accordian, enrapt. Zoey, I say, psst! Come back! Don't operate your kids, Enzo gently tells the parents each Sunday. Let them discover the music themselves. Clap, let them watch you sing so that they may sing themselves. And yet every Sunday I see parents with their children on their laps. They take the hands of the children and clap them together woodenly, yay! High falsetto and happy, marionettes clacking, operating instructions tucked neatly into back pockets, the troubleshooting guide particularly dog-eared. I have been known to do the same; Zoey's small hands fit so neatly inside my own.
At the park Zoey waits her turn. She watches the other kids before she climbs, pauses before she leaps. Jump! I say as kids push past her. Jump! My voice high because I want her to know the exhilaration of falling. (The exhilaration of pushing if I am honest.)
Why hello! What's your name? the cashier at the supermarket asks. Zoey looks down at her raisins and so I answer for her, my fingers plucking at strings. At Enzo's, Zoey twirls. Around and around and around. I think she's going to be a drug addict, I whisper to my dad who has come along for the show. She likes being dizzy. Pas de chat, pas de chat, pas de chat, Zoey chants softly under her breath, a ballet term from one of her favorite DVD's, except it comes out sounding like padasshhh, padasshh, padasshhh. Zoey, I stop her waist from turning anymore. Want to dance out there with those other girls? She can hardly focus her eyes, the famed aftermath of a tilt-a-whirl girl, but I point to the center of the room where little kids are hopping and jumping, holding hands. Enzo is playing the banjo. It is so difficult not to operate your child. You want them to be fearless, bold, confident. To be better, not so much better than themselves, but better than you. You want them to toe tap and smile, to stand far away from the table of hors d'oeuvres, to sing their name as if it were the easiest and only note in the room. Zoey! Smile! An assault of supposed good intentions. And yet when she smiles it is real, it is full, it is pure, it is the best, her small feet the soft steps of a cat.