Maggie has developed a new nighttime routine. She began it before Elena died but it has gotten much more elaborate. She comes up and sits on my lap and rubs my chin and says "beard". She then rubs the hair on the side of my face and says in a Sponge Bob sort of way "side burns". She moves on to moustache and ends with the fat that hangs below my chin saying "blubber".
It's her way of finding an activity that is acceptable to her nine year old sensibilities that allows her to come over and sit in her dad's lap when she wants. The only part I'm not wild about is the part at the end where she puts a hand on either side of my face and wrenches it to the right so that we sit facing each other inches away. Then she says "smooshies" and smooshes her face into mine connecting everything between our foreheads and noses.
It's both a wonderful moment in the present as well as a reminder of the past. When Maggie was little, and later with Elena, I would go into her room to say good night. Neither of them liked being tucked in. They liked arranging their own beds just the way they liked them. When I would come in to check on them before they fell asleep they would pop up out of their comfortable blankets and sit up straight to talk to me.
Some days they would feel like a hug and a kiss and some days they wouldn't. I never made a big deal out of it. Why make it hard on days they feel like one? But on days they didn't feel like it when they were little I would call out a body part. "Foreheads," I'd say. And we would lean forward and tough foreheads. "Noses," I'd say. And we would soon be joined for a moment at the nose.
Sometimes I'd be walking by them while they sat downstairs and I'd pause to agitate them. I always paused to agitate them. "Ears," I'd say. And without looking away from whatever was engrossing them at the time they would tilt their heads so that we were touching ears. Maggie would take the game in a scientific direction calling out organs she'd learned about. Elena would call out knees, elbows, and ankles.
From time to time Elena would test me. "Nipples," she'd call out. I'd shake my head no and tell her to pick some other part. She loved nipples. We had guests over once and they stood with me in the kitchen while I prepared the meal. They'd gotten there early and so Kim was just finishing showering and getting dressed while two year old Elena sat on the bed looking at picture books.
We'd forgotten the baby monitor was on until I heard Elena's voice on the speaker in the kitchen. "Mom, can I rub your nipples?"
"No, baby," Kim said.
There was a pause and I figured we were done. Of course I should have known better. "Mom," Elena asked, "how come your nipples – " I flicked the baby monitor off and shrugged my shoulders at our guests.
There's something magic about touch. It's in your head though. It's not just the sensation. When someone touches you in exactly the same way it can be warm and comforting, stimulating, or just irritating.
Remember when you were younger and sitting at a table with someone you had a crush on. And your leg brushed against what you thought was theirs and your chest swelled and your heart started to race. And then you looked down and realized the only thing your leg was touching was the table leg.
Maggie will sometimes come up to me and ask me to put down my coffee cup. "Why?" I always ask.
"So I can give you love and affection," she answers.
I put the cup down and she takes a running leap at me and gives me a hug, a smile, and sometimes a peck on the cheek. I hold her and feel the warmth of being alive. It's as if she had called out "hearts" and we had held our hearts together as only a father and daughter can.