“Don’t hold your breath, baby. You’ll turn blue,” my mother always said. But my five-year-old daughter inhales. She holds her breath until her skin flushes, her eyes bulge, until I stop clipping her nails.

“Okay, okay.” I drop the clippers on the dining room table, zip up her coat, slide the straps of her backpack up her arms until they rest in exactly the right spot. “We’ll do nails tonight.”

She smiles then. “It’s alright,” she says. “I’ll bite them until they’re short.”

“You’re cruising for a bruisin’,” my mother would say when I’d back away, when I’d shake my head no. But my daughter just laughs at the rhyme, at the words that slip out before I even know what I’m saying. Her little girl brain knows thick-voiced yells aren’t the same as danger. That thin apologies always follow, that ice cream always smooths what’s rough, what’s notched and knifey.

The bus pulls up, lights flashing, the stop sign unfolding. The dogs start to pace. The hamster runs on her wheel. My older kids are long gone to school, and for a moment, before she walks out the door, my daughter stares into my eyes like an old lady who has a secret to tell.

“You’re going to write a story today,” she says and I nod. Yes, yes, I assure her, though I will not. I might write an article about the real estate bubble in Fairfax County. Maybe a listicle about the best beach-proof mascaras.

“You’re going to write a whole book today!” she says and claps, then raises her hands up high. “My mom wrote a book!” She shakes her hips, one-two, turns around and waves her arms. “We’re going to live in a mansion!”

She peeks over her shoulder and blows me a kiss. She turns the doorknob, still fighting with her baby grip to do big kid things. She growls when I approach to help, and I back away even though I’m worried now that we’ve made the bus driver wait too long.

The knob turns and clicks, the door opening. She walks out without looking back.

“Have a good day!” I call. She doesn’t acknowledge me. The bus driver waves, a small consolation, and then they are gone.


Hannah Grieco is a writer in Washington, DC. Find her online at www.hgrieco.com and on Twitter @writesloud.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore