If I were little, you’d let me lick the spatula. You would embrace me with open arms as I rushed through the door to greet you, Pottery Barn backpack swinging side to side, eyes bright with curiosity and enchantment. You would remind me to dump my shoes outside, filled with playground sand, and I would chatter on about the alphabet, and letter people, and how I had been assigned to make a dessert that began with a “P”. You would nod, already informed by Mrs. Dickinson’s weekly newsletter, and pull out a can of syrup-soaked fruit. You would ask if I had heard of pineapple upside-down cake, and I would giggle at the silly name, and we would spend the afternoon making it together. You would stir as I added the ingredients until I wanted a turn, and once the stirring was over altogether, you would hand me a batter-covered spatula to devour while the cake rose in the oven. And I would inevitably get it all over myself, but you wouldn’t get mad or take it away because you knew that was going to happen anyway. And I’d stare up at you, sticky faced, smiling and smiling.
If I stared up at you, sticky faced, smiling and smiling, you would tell me I needed a bath. And we would walk back to your bathroom, the one with the big tub, and you would add food coloring and soap to the running water and watch my eyes widen as pink bubbles rolled away from the faucet. You would scrub my hair into a spike, and I would laugh at my reflection in the fogged up mirror because I looked funny with my hair sticking up like that. And you would laugh too, not because it was that funny, but because you loved me and the sound of my laughter. You would shade my eyes from shampoo with a gentle hand placed against my forehead, pouring plastic cupfuls of water over my hair. You would scoop me up in a dryer-warmed towel, hooded and monogrammed, and carry me to my bedroom. You’d rub lotion into my hands since I inherited Dad’s dry skin, and spray apple-scented detangler on my hair before brushing it out. And I’d look up at you, bleary eyed, yawning and yawning.
If I looked up at you, bleary eyed, yawning and yawning, you would say it was past my bedtime. You would help me get into my pajamas, polka-dotted and laundry-soft, and tuck me in nice and tight. You would sit at the edge of my bed and humor my requests: a glass of water, my night light on, just one more story. And you would sing to me, “Yesterday” by the Beatles, or anything else I asked for. I would ask you to turn up the night noises and you would know exactly what I meant by that. You would understand I needed to hear the sounds of you — the clinking of dinner plates, the hum of our dishwasher, the tunes of home improvement television — to feel safe enough to go to sleep. And you would listen, no matter how silly the request, and make as much racket as you could so that I could find some peace. You would come over, help quiet my mind by entrusting me with dream tasks of fantasy menu creation and party curation, and kiss my forehead goodnight. And I’d gaze up at you, heart filled, loving and loving.
But I’m not little. And you don’t let me lick the spatula anymore. You hold it back, asking if it’s the right choice for me to make. Asking if I expect to just keep going up in dress sizes. Asking if I am really hungry, since I just ate five hours ago. Asking if I wanted to join you on a soup cleanse because it made you feel great and because it helped you lose a few and because those two things are really the same, aren’t they? And I never saw you prouder than when I told you I was starving myself again, beaming as I spread measured teaspoons of powdered peanut butter on unsalted rice cakes and logged my calories of sugar free gum. Just like Mama. And I’m sorry. Really, more than anything else. I’m sorry that I got bigger. That I was the one who outgrew your love at the end of the day, measured in proportion to the pound. That I was the one who changed. I know that you just want your little girl back. The one who looked up at you, smiling and yawning and loving. But I grew up, and I got taller, and now I meet your eyes when we stand on opposite sides. And we are always standing on opposite sides. But I’ll still look at you, body changed, waiting and waiting for you to come over and love me where I am.