“You can give away this,” she said. She was standing in front of me wearing a t-shirt from the last tennis tournament she played and a pair of navy jersey track shorts. It was the oversized style that categorised girls this generation. A sort of baggy-hoody-Ariana-Grande army of tweens whose hands would never be seen again. In her hand was a stuffed animal.
I was in the middle of my annual Christmas season purge, a time where I go through the playroom and indiscriminately discard seldom-used toys into one of two piles: giveaway or garbage. It’s a yearly struggle with my two children to negotiate what is being dismissed. We go back and forth every time like two teams of brokers: when was the last time you played with this? do you even know where the missing parts are? you haven’t touched this toy since last year.
She was standing there in front of me and in her hand was Twilight Sparkle, of My Little Pony fame. I looked at her nonchalance, the way her hair was tossed on top of her head in a casual bun. Ear buds draped from her neck like reins, one bleating the boom-bap of whatever pop hit graced Apple Music’s algorithm for her. I couldn’t remember the last time I had touched her hair. I used to touch it every day, curving it into two obedient buns because she wanted to be like Minnie Mouse. That was what I had done back when she made this exact Twilight Sparkle at Build-A-Bear in a South Florida mall. I remember how excited she was; how she stood there with the Builder who gave her the heart to kiss and add a wish before they stitched up the pony’s purple back. I remember how she insisted we take the stupid cardboard box crate and how halfway through the mall, my husband had to end up carrying it since she tired of the responsibility and it was too large to shove under her brother’s stroller. She used to sleep with Twilight Sparkle every night. Some mornings I would find it discarded under the bed and I would place it next to her other stuffies arranged near the pillows in a place of honour.
She held it out to me now, and breathed one word with juvenile impatience “here.”
I looked at the proffered Twilight Sparkle. “Are you sure, honey?”
“Huh?” She plucked one of the the ear buds out, “Yea, I don’t really play with it anymore.” When I didn’t respond, she continued, “Besides, you’re the one always saying we should get rid of things.”
Twilight Sparkle sat dejected on the discard pile. I watched my daughter’s departing frame that moved so much like mine now. People have taken to saying she is Another-Vanessa these days. Her haughty cynicism and flippant manner micro actions of my own. An echo of me with darker skin and lighter hair.
I rose from my squat on the ground between piles in the playroom and snatched the pony up. I used to call my daughter Snookie when she was little. It was a name that stumbled off my lips on the fifth day after I came home from the hospital. I was twenty-one years old and (by some chance of fate) the midwives thought me responsible enough to leave the place with a newborn baby human being. It took five days for the reality of the matter to settle around me and on the night it did, we were on my bed under the mosquito net I had carefully arranged to protect my infant from blood-suckers. I seldom call her Snookie now. I don’t even really say her name at all anymore unless its cloaked in frustration or anger over a half-assed chore.
I’m not entirely sure when it was, but one day earlier this year she stopped saying my name, too. She must have called us Mommy and Daddy for the last time. No parenting book prepares you for that. They have all sorts of published volumes on infant language acquisition and quirky magazine articles on Baby’s First Words, but there is nothing about when Baby Stops Saying Things. Language forfeit. I never thought I would have been so enamoured by a phoneme. Except now, every time the words Mom or Dad hit my ears, I hear the names of strangers. Mom and Dad sound like the people who go on campus tours or get introduced to your boyfriend; Mom and Dad visit you in your new apartment. They don’t sound like us.
“Savannah,” I called out from the entrance to her room, “you know, Twilight Sparkle would look pretty neat in here on your bed. She sorta matches your decor.”
Savannah looked up from the book she was reading. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. “She’s purple, Mom. My room is black and blush.”
“Yea, but…” I let the six years since she was excited about Twilight Sparkle slip into my voice and it broke under their weight.
She regarded me with her dark eyes. There was a beat of time that felt warm against my chest. Then she moved the rose gold decorative pillow from its place on the head of her bed. She got up and took Twilight Sparkle from me. Savannah wasn’t wrong; Twilight Sparkle matched nothing in her room. Gone was the little girl room of wild Pantone chaos. In its stead was a black and white mandala bedspread and black ruffled curtains. Copper lantern twinkle lights draped over her mirror above the caddy of various LA Girl make up products. On the wall was a pink letter board which she had arranged to read Silent Nights are for Losers.
“You’re right,” she lied, “She looks cute.”