Out of the blue, Mia asks me, "Who took care of you when you were a little girl?"
We're eating yogurt at 10 in the morning. We call it second breakfast, three hours after the bowls of cereal, a couple of hours before lunch. It's a sunny Christmas Eve.
I stop for a second to flip through the possible answers I could offer her. The long story? The saddest story? The simplest?
"Well, I had my mommy, then Aunt Ruth took care of me."
"Who's Aunt Ruth?"
"Oh," says Mia. I think she's satisfied. She's four. Her feet don't touch the ground when she sits on the kitchen chair. She is as old as I was when . . . What comparison do I make? The saddest one? She is as old as I was when the search for my parents was called off? No, today, I will make the simplest comparison. She is as old as I was once. But I am not four any longer.
It is her life in this room, in this house, not just mine. This is her Christmas, as well as mine. My Christmas may be a complicated tangle of the difficult past, the cherished past, the lucid and luminous now and the hopeful, shining future, but her Christmas is today. With jumping around to the manic Polar Express soundtrack, sunshine, dressing up as an angel for services at dusk, homemade mini pizzas for dinner and chocolate fondue for dessert.
She will have challenges to work through today. Resisting the urge to pinch the bulges in the stockings. Trying not to nibble on the gingerbread house. Remembering to place the snowman stamp ink-side-up on the table. Playing with her little sister without hitting.
My job today is to guide her through this Christmas maze of fun and mishaps and broken ornaments and tears, but not to lead her too near my own dark corners. Perhaps, if I let her, my daughter may just lead me to a place near the tree where the light spills in from the front window and we can love today fully, together.