Kevin has Sophie in what might look to the rest of the world like a chest lock, as I try to wrestle her pants onto her body.
“I DON’T WANT TO GO TO THE ZOO.”
She is writhing and kicking, fighting us with everything she has. She bends over and bites the pants.
“No, Sophie. Biting is bad,” says Kevin.
Sophie’s eyes gleam and she cranes her neck to bite me. I whip my forearm away, just in the nick of time.
“YOU DON’T BITE,” I say in my loud, firm, angry teacher voice.
“I want to bite you!” I’ve got one leg in, but she’s trying to work it off with her other leg. Kevin has both her arms pinned to prevent her from slapping, biting or scratching me.
“We are going to the zoo and that’s THAT!” I say.
How did it come to this? We need to rewind this moment to about five minutes ago.
Sophie is curled up on the couch with her father, who is now reading the 17th Dick and Jane story in the Complete Dick and Jane Reader.
“Sally goes down. Down. Down. Down. Funny Sally. Sally is down.” Or something like that, utterly devoid of content, written for the sole purpose of drilling sight words, ignorant of the importance of phonics as a critical component of early literacy programs. Though, the pictures are charming. I particularly like the ones of Father, who resembles Don Draper.
“Are we going to the holiday light display at the zoo or not?” My mother asks.
“How cold is it?” I ask back. Anything below freezing and the answer is no. Mom pops outside in her blue velour track suit and a few seconds later announces, “It’s 40 degrees and no wind. If we don’t go tonight, we’re not going to get an opportunity like this again. I’m going.” She’s lying through her teeth. I eye Sophie’s tights.
“Okay. But I don’t want Sophie walking around in just a pair of tights. She’s going to have to wear a pair of pants over them.”
“NO! I WILL NOT!” Sophie protests. “No pants over my tights. It will be very comfortable.” I know that she means uncomfortable, as she makes this mistake virtually every time I dress her.
“No pants, no zoo.” I tell her.
“Then no zoo,” Sophie shoots back, challenging me.
The gloves are off.
“Well, Grandpa and I are going, whether you’re going or not.” My mother adds to the pot.
“I want to go too,” it comes out a little like a whine.
Kevin points out, his lids at half mast, “You three should go. When you come back and tell her all about it, she’ll learn from the consequences of her actions. The toddler should not make decisions for the family.”
My mother makes a crack about Sophie being raised by two psychologists.
I offer my evaluation: “She’s just being stubborn. If we get her there, she’ll have a great time. I vote we break her will.”
I go to the bedroom and re-appear with Sophie’s hot pink leggings.
“I SAID NO PANTS!”
And now we’re back where we started. We wrestle the pants on. Next the shoes, which are slightly too large, and she easily kicks across the room as soon as we jam her feet into them.
“Forget the shoes,” I say. “We’ll put them on in the car.” We force her into a pint-size cherry red down jacket. Sophie is crying real tears and snot is running into her mouth. Her hair is matting with sweat from her effort.
“Get me a tissue,” Kevin instructs, as he lifts Sophie up, who is all limbs and teeth and nails. I am back in a flash with the tissues, opening the front door, then the car door, clearing a path for Kevin and the whirling dervish in his arms.
Grandma and grandpa follow in disbelief.
Kevin straps her to her chair. “I NEED SNAKEY-PIE!” Sophia moans…she is showing signs of weakening. Grandma returns to the house for Snakey-pie. Kevin dabs her cheeks and Sophie fights him anew.
“I don’t want to go to the zoo! I don’t want to see the holiday lights!”
With snakey-pie in her arms and her thumb in her mouth, she relaxes. It’s quiet in the car for a few beats.
“I am going to knock down ALL the holiday lights!” Sophie says with conviction. Her last stand. We smirk in the darkness.
By the time we reach the zoo, Sophie is pointing out the decorations she sees on the way. Once we park, she compliantly dons her hat, scarf and mittens. As we push her through the entrance, she gasps with joy. Before long she is exclaiming over luminous images of zoo animals, begging to ride the carousel, staring in wonder at the wolf who glows strangely white in the light of a waxing moon. We run into her friends Reid and Mitchell. Sophie grasps Reid’s hand and the two of them walk through animal exhibits, transformed by this electrified night. Many of the few animals that are visible are asleep. An exception is the great python in the reptile house, his head lifted from the thick ropes of his body. Sophie puts her face to the glass and he touches her lips with the tines of his forked tongue.
“He gave you a kiss,” I tell Sophie. “I got a snake kiss!” Sophie exclaims. And she puts her face down for another.