Zoe with Eve (fully recovered from the flu)

Tonight after Zoe’s requested birthday dinner of pasta with meatballs (she says it “meatbawls” with a New York accent and laughs) topped off with chocolate chip fudge cake, we played Kids on Stage, a charades board game she received for her birthday from a friend. It is a perfectly designed game and exactly on target for a 4-year-old. She could easily follow the directions and act out what was on the cards and guess what Randy and I were doing when it was our turns. And unlike with Candyland or Chutes and Ladders (which I hope to discreetly remove from the house in the coming weeks), Randy and I did not get bored or go insane. After Zoe won she wanted to play again and while getting ready for bed kept improvising actions and objects she could imitate and we could guess.

The science experiment kit we gave her today was popular too. We used eye droppers and test tubes to mix water and oil and detergent and little colored tablets and observed the results. I felt like the explanations in the instruction manual were somewhat lacking, but Randy and I are also somewhat lacking in our scientific knowledge, so it is what it is.

Today Zoe received her own library card. This is a relief because I won’t have to worry about maxing out my card checking out items for both of us. We’ve recently expanded our literary horizons from exclusively little kid books to include chapter books that we read to her and she pays attention to even though the pictures are fewer and farther between, and I’m sure there’s a lot of words she doesn’t know. We’ve been reading Charlotte’s Web at bedtime, which all three of us have enjoyed. Zoe can read some words, and I am probably unnecessarily impatient for her to be reading fluently so she can entertain herself more easily. But she’s getting there. We’ve also listened to some chapter books on cd, as well as picture books on cd where you can read along. I like the variety that is available to us now, although there are certainly favorites we return to frequently. Most trips to the library Zoe whispers to me, “Let’s find books about a mommy having a baby.” And the book can’t just be about a mommy or a baby. It has to actually be about a mom who is about to give birth and then does, and then what happens. Often she can spot such a book from 20 paces, but if there aren’t any on display, I now know enough of the better titles and authors in this genre that I can find them for her on the shelves. We are also huge fans of Mo Willems and everything he has written.

In recent months I have had more frequent migraines, and Zoe has eagerly stepped up to the role of nurse and comforter. I do not want her to think she has a sick mommy or that I cannot take care of her, but at the same time sometimes I have to lie down and invite one of our friends from PBS Kids http://pbskids.org/ or Nick Jr. to keep us company. Surprisingly, she isn’t rattled if I’m not feeling well. She immediately comes over, unsolicited, to hug me or rub my back. She brings me snuggly animals and covers me with a blanket. She says “Don’t worry, Mommy, I like taking care of people.” And while most of her caretaking focuses on her baby dolls, she is extraordinarily conscientious. Randy went into her room the other day and found her sitting on a stool next to her bed, looking completely discouraged. He asked what was wrong. “Eve [one of her favorite dolls] has the flu. She’s been sick for days and no matter what I do, she won’t get better.” And it was true that for days she’d been telling us that Eve had the flu, putting her to bed when it was time to leave for school each morning, and instructing us to be quiet so Eve could rest.

We have not escaped the princess years entirely, as I had once naively hoped was the case. But we are still not fully immersed. Zoe is drawn to princess things and knows most of the Disney princesses by name but we haven’t seen any of the movies. Way too scary. She likes to dress up and be glamorous, but royal beauty often morphs into ballerina chic as well. At preschool she will often arrive and head to the dress-up corner, slip on a princess gown or a tutu, and then go about her business of the day–pounding nails while wearing safety goggles, dictating stories in her journal, doing puzzles, or making non-Newtonian substances out of household products. Don’t ask me what this means–it’s what her teacher told me. The class made something called gak. They had fun, whatever it was.

In ballet class last Saturday we were invited to observe the last few minutes of class to see what the girls have been learning. This proves challenging every time the teacher attempts it because the girls all seem completely thrown by the presence of their parents (and always some younger siblings who feel compelled to careen around the studio). During the 10-minute demonstration Zoe was sometimes beautifully attentive and sometimes completely focused on the little kid running around and totally tuning out the teacher. But when she was dancing, she was joyful and possessed a grace that does not come from my side of the family. She is also a little yogi in training, and her birthday party on Sunday included a mini-yoga class taught by my own yoga teacher. Her friends were wonderfully engaged for most of the 30 minutes and then escaped to eat cake and explode across the playground. Zoe loves to move, whether it’s creeping like a turtle or hopping like a bunny. Except when she goes drama queen and says she’s tired and needs to lie down. After a long day she says quietly, “I’m feeling a little fragile.” And then suddenly she is jumping onto, across, and off the couch. Thank goodness for quick recoveries.