Having expensively bailed the beast out from the mechanics on Friday, I was independently mobile for the first time all week... but I got an offer too good to refuse that kept me close to home. AJ had a course to teach and our folks had an event to attend... Hey, Brian, would you mind watching your niece for a while on Saturday...?
I don't think I could've answered any faster; not only did I want to help, but it would be the first time I'd have the Pipsqueak all to myself for any appreciable length of time since we'd brought her home from China. We figured out it would be best for Miri to be at her Grandma & Grandpa's, and I actually got there on time. AJ soon came zooming in with the Pipsqueak fresh from Little Gym and zoomed back out again after just a couple of minutes.
Miri was a little puzzled about why Mommy was leaving so quickly without her, and why Uncle Brian was at Grandma & Grandpa's but Grandma & Grandpa weren't -- but when I asked her if she wanted me to read a book to her, I got a quick smile and happy "Yeh!" that made me feel absolutely great.
The next couple of hours went by much too quickly. We read a few books, we sang a few songs (although I have to admit that just one more repeat of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" or "Muffin Man" probably would've been painful), and I found myself remembering the tunes of nursery rhymes I hadn't sung in decades. After the umpteenth repeat of "One, Two Buckle My Shoe" (and the umpteenth explanation that "hen" and "chicken" are the same animal), the Pipsqueak started getting a little crochety until the offer of a snack got things back on track.
Of course, I figured the ziplock baggie of assorted cereal, nuts & candy on the kitchen table with my niece's name printed clearly on it was there for just that purpose -- and of course I later found out I was wrong. Meanwhile, she fished around in the bag and immediately pulled out the largest piece of candy she could find, a massive thing that was basically a generic peanut M&M, and asked, "Chokit?" I hadn't known that her Grandma had said not to give those to her because they were so large & potentially too hard for her baby teeth... but as soon as I reassured Miri that it was not only chocolate but had the hidden bonus of a peanut inside -- CRUNCH! Another couple of the forbidden candies quickly disappeared before it occurred to Uncle Brian that maybe something with a little less sugar might be a good idea and a cheese stick met its demise.
Now on a definite sugar high, Miri turned her attention to what was happening outside and immediately spotted the water table out on the deck. We had a bit of a conversation about waiting 'til Mommy got back (in my niece's world, "wait" is a four-letter word) but she brightened right up when I asked if she'd like to go for a walk. Once the Pipsqueak's feet were back in her shoes, we headed outside and wandered around the yard. After carefully avoiding a tree root that inexplicably scared her, Miri picked up a stick and began to sing her version of, "five, six, pick up sticks... seven, eight, lay them straight" while her amazed uncle watched her carefully lining sticks up next to each other on the sidewalk.
Unfortunately, it was about this time that a small but voracious cloud of little black insects made their presence known, and I talked Miri into returning indoors. Of course, we were in the house all of about three seconds when she started saying, "Sticks! Sticks!" and pointing to the door... so I scooped her back up, ran around the side of the house with her, and quickly grabbed a handful of the sticks she'd been playing with and ran back into the house. She spent the next few minutes happily alternating between lining the sticks up neatly on the floor and whacking her uncle with the largest stick. Luckily, she soon tired of that particular form of mayhem and demanded an encore of multiple repetitions of the "Muffin Man" song (which by that point I was glad to sing over and over because it hurt less than that stick).
I guess Miri got tired of "Muffin Man" because she finally (thank you!) interrupted me with "Mickey?" Since we hadn't turned on the TV yet, I figured it would be alright and we happily snuggled down next to each other on the couch for a few minutes of Mickey Mouse from the on-demand channels -- and all of a sudden Mommy was at the door, and Uncle Brian quickly returned to a less exalted position in the universe.
I didn't mind too much; it's always fun to be with Miri, and we'd had a wonderful time together -- and it's always good to see how close my niece is with her Mommy. The three of us spent some quality time out on the deck with the water table (where AJ had a slight problem with aiming the hose that resulted in yours truly having to sit in an extra-sunny spot for a while 'til I dried out a bit), and I used an appreciable chunk of the space on my camera's SD card shooting photos & videos of Miri playing in the water. Eventually the Pipsqueak's batteries ran down & she fell asleep in AJ's lap. Our folks came home just a few minutes later (and I had to I run out to the garage to warn them to come in quietly) but it wasn't too long before the Pipsqueak was telling Grandma & Grandpa about all the fun she'd had.
I headed home to take care of a few things, and then we all met up for dinner at the Slop Chute*. Miri was in fine form, keeping us all thoroughly occupied, but a fine time was had by all (she even said hi to a little girl who happened to be toddling past) and the day closed out with a pleasant glow.
[*The "Slop Chute" is a real place but that's not its real name -- Dad just likes to call it that, and the name's stuck with us. :-)]
I spent some time late in the evening just sitting and thinking back over the day. I was comparing some of how Miri & I had been playing to how we'd spent some of our precious alone time back in China, and was struck by the differences. Back in July of 2010, the Pipsqueak was still much more baby than toddler; now she is much more little girl than toddler and the speed of that change has taken my breath away. Back in China she would sometimes burble to herself, or make little inquisitive noises and point at something, and would charm everyone with a huge smile and a quiet giggle; now she was talking, actually conversing with me, singing songs she'd learned in the past few months and regularly letting loose with a laugh that started all the way down in her toes. I realized that in some way I'd always miss that little baby (even when she peed all over me!), but the cute little girl I'd spent the morning with is an amazing little person and I can't wait to see how she continues to grow.
And the best part of the change? Back in China, she learned to tuck herself into the crook of my arm when I picked her up and didn't seem to mind my holding her... but now she shows me where to sit on the couch, and then climbs up beside me and snuggles up against her uncle.
And it don't get any better than that.