I’m there to meet her when the bell rings and all the fifth graders are released to the October afternoon sun. Her classmate’s mother and I are talking about the email we both received from the math teacher explaining how poorly students performed on last Friday’s math quiz and requiring corrected and signed quizzes the following day. I’m not that stressed about it, only curious to see if the kid is going to own it or if I’ll have to broach the subject.
She’s on it before we’re even off school grounds. “Dad I have to tell you something, and when you first hear it you’re going to hate me but by the time I finish will be fine.” I’m a little startled. Hate?
“Okay,” I answer calmly, “But first: I won’t hate you. I’ll never hate you.” She sighs and, though I can’t see given that we’re walking side by side, rolls her eyes, and says, “It’s a metaphor.”
I’m there in the kitchen with her after dinner, loading the dishwasher and wiping down countertops, while she’s mixing together ingredients to make herself a cake, the kind you bake in the microwave in a coffee mug. I’m playing “A Long December” by Counting Crows on Spotify for a very specific reason. One of the spelling words we just practiced is “attach,” and I’ve got that lyric in my head, “The way that light attaches to a girl.” So I look it up and play it.
When it ends Spotify keeps playing. It stays in the 90’s folk-rock lane. The Indigo Girls’ “Closer To Fine” is filling the kitchen when I’m closing the dishwasher and she’s adding the milk to her second cake (the first one was a dud). She’s sarcastically interrogating the lyrics:
I went to the doctor (Oh did you now?)
I went to the mountains (What for?)
I looked to the children (Wait. What?)
She’s actually stuck on the children part. She looks up from her mug and stops her stirring. She’s heard herself addressed, but she doesn’t know for what. With all the seriousness the day has left she puts it to me. “Why would anyone need to go to children?” I have just the answer, and it comes with an eye roll:
“It’s a metaphor.”