"What did you do at school today, Sprite?"
"I played with friends."
"Keep the hula hoop away from my van please."
She obediently scoots toward the edge of the driveway, closer to me and the dogs, farther from the vehicle as she tries once again to whip the hoop around, hoping that simply moving her arms will provide the circular momentum needed to keep it orbiting around her waist.
Sprite looks back at me and smiles, her eyes alighting when she sees the other larger hoop whizzing in the air, propelled by my small arm movements.
"How do you do THAT?" she asks, awed by the quick revolutions.
The best thing about the summer has been now. Finally, after fighting our way through traffic, the construction, destruction, and inevitable clean up of dinner, we are now able to step outside for more than a few minutes to enjoy the warm air without still feeling the lingering heat of the day, the pink tinted sky, the calm of the neighborhood.
In a few days, it will be too humid again to truly appreciate, too hot to consider going back out there after just escaping into the air conditioned house, but right now it's perfect.
"Let's play school!"
My favorite part.
We lay our hoops down close to each other and sit within the rounds on the drive, shadowed by my huge minivan beast, and the sounds of Harry trying to bite into a large soccer ball, larger than he is, at least, from where it's wedged near my front tire.
"I'm the teacher and you're....also a teacher," Sprite instructs, happy with herself that she's able to give me a title, since thanks to preschool logic, adults are not allowed to pretend to be children. They're too big and therefore forbidden, just like boys are not allowed to be princesses and girls are not allowed to be superheroes.
Somewhere, in a few years, these roles will be reversed and reversed once more, but for now, the four year old's encyclopedia is written.
"Okay," I respond, just happy to be a part of her imagination, something that has been happening less and less while we were housebound in the evenings, Sprite preferring to play with her dolls and their size appropriate castles. "Where's the class?"
"The bunnies are the kids."
I smile, not sure if the bunnies are "present" yet. It's just us, two hoops, a nuerotic beagle tethered to her leash, and a hyper terrier who is now debating which round object is more enticing, the soccer ball, or my tire.
Pick the ball, Harry.
"Okay, class!" She claps her hands. "It's circle time! I'll go get the bunnies."
She hops up, steps around me and my protective hoop, and into the grass where she leans down and scoops up the air. Holding the loose atoms in her embrace, she returns to her circle of power once more, sitting down and depositing nothing in front of us.
"Ten bunnies. I'll count them." Her mouth moves silently as I can almost hear her count out to the magic ten. "Ten. All here!"
I don't see the bunnies. I play along anyway.
"What's first, Ms. Sprite?"
"No, Ms. Lisa. Say it with me, Miss. Lee. Sa."
The teacher is bossy. "Ms. Lisa."
"Good job! You get a sticker." She turns to address the rest of the students, now taking the form of one of her own classroom teachers, "Class, we're going to say the Pledge of Allegiance."
She bounces up again, places her left hand to the right side side of her chest and with her right hand, she holds the invisible flag. Years of adult non-commitance fade away, my own right hand sneaks up and takes place, my back straightens, almost feeling the rigid cold chair backs of my old elementary classroom, listening as she gently butchers the tradition and segues immediately into a rendition of "Grand Old Flag", complete with low pitched murmurs over the phrases she never quite understood when learning it and a patriotic march step before signaling the end with a salute and a hearty "Yessir!"
"Wonderful!" I crow, shrugging off my auto correct feature for now. We don't correct when we're playing, how else do we lose ourselves when reality has to be brought up?
John's car pulls up along the grass, he obviously sees us as we're occupying his usual parking space.
Sprite looks up from admonishing a bunny who was not marching along (unfortunately, I must have been ignorant of this as well) and her face lights up. "Daddy!" She looks back down at the pavement in front of us. "Nap time! Go take a nap! Mommy, rub the bunnies' backs," she orders, before running off to greet her father.
John walks up with her and immediately takes a seat within the third hoop, squishing the sleeping bunnies. "What are you guys playing?"
"We're playing school. I'm Ms. Lisa, Mommy is..... Ms. Mommy. You be, um, be Mr. Daddy." She either doesn't notice or fails to remember that her father is sitting where she had placed her students. No matter, she turns to his right and addresses the "moved" rabbits.
"Okay, we now are going to work in our circles, everyone partner up," she orders, clapping her hands twice in Mary Poppins style practicality. "Ms. Mommy, you watch the class."
She immediately plops into John's lap for a cuddle, leaving me to control the possibly (?) out of control bunnies. And If I blur my eyes the tiniest bit, dull out the harsh edges of reality, I can just see them now.