She awakens. Her eyes squint to discern the beady red numbers, silhouetted against the darkness of the still-not-yet-day.
5. 3. 8.
She’s not supposed to open the door until 6, because Mommy said so, so she lies in bed, staring at the stubborn clock, swinging her legs, whispering non sequiturs, and counting to a-hundred, until finally, there it goes:
She’s out of bed. It’s breakfast quickly, then her school clothes, teeth, hair.
As she marches between each task, she focuses on when she will be free; the golden horizon glittering so close to her of unadulterated playtime. The maddening, delicious, holy, childhood secret world of creation.
Most days she spends that time coloring with fresh markers, in and out of the lines, and heaving her little sister into different positions as they squirm and giggle on top of each other.
Too soon, the bus will come at 8, or 8:10.
When she sees it approaching, she understands she’s entering a world of obligations- even if it’s Montessori and even if it’s her choice.
Her teachers hug her; warm, fair, and stern, they are- according to her- the smartest people in the world (sorry, Mom).
The education is so good and so thorough, with such a wonderful, complete mix of secular and holy, that by the time the bell rings at 4, she’s all out.
She heaves herself down the school steps, all frowns and mutters. Her classic optimism and sweetness disappears with her leftover lunch on the yellow bus.
By 4:45, the bus finally rolls around to her stop, and when she stumbles tired through the front door, dinner appears on the table piping hot; never what she wants and never enough.
The bath water rises, tantalizing her, but it’s quickly hug, kiss, book, then bed.
Because tomorrow’s another day, and if she’s going to make sure she gets in her morning essential playtime, she needs sleep.
But she can’t sleep because she can’t find space from the suffocation of time unspent, magical worlds unvisited, and secret words unwhispered.
She can’t breathe.
She’s five years old.
Her mom throws her a goodnight kiss, and gently closes the door. Weakly, she responds in kind.
When the door closed, the room blackens.
The familiar, stubborn, red beady lights greet her again, as she dreams once more about 6 a.m.