Monday, May 10, 2010

Abby Sunshine

“Is that her name?  Sunshine?” The Cat Lady asked me.

“No,” I said, smiling as I thought of this very un-me, hippy-evoking name. “Her name is Abby—Abigail.  I just call her that sometimes.  I have lots of nicknames,” I explained.

Abby and I were in the cat room established by our local pet rescue at the pet store.  This day, there were 18 cats there, some perched on the many shelves hung for that very purpose, others curled up in the various kitty beds and baskets, a few strutting purposefully through the kitty jungle gyms.  One greeted us at the door, rubbing her cheek against our legs as we squeezed through the door so as not to give the escape artists opportunity to get out.

Abby loves coming to this room.  She exclaims over the different cats in their various sleeping positions.  She recognizes a few that have been there a while and calls them by name.  She squeals when one approaches to say hello.  “Put your hand out and let them pet you,” I advise her in an attempt to prevent her from greeting one that would rather be left alone.  She stands still, doing her very best to be patient, until finally one steps closer and lifts its head to her hand.  “She peht me, Mama!” Abby announces.

We stayed for about twenty minutes this particular day, talking with the kind old woman who comes throughout the week to clean the room and fill the food bowls and refresh the water and give the cats a bit of love.  We’ve met other volunteers, too, but she has been there the most.  This time, she told us she would be out of town for the next two weeks because she was going to volunteer at an animal rescue in Texas she’s worked at for several years.  “With the pigs this time!  I’ve never worked with the pigs before,” she informed me. 

As we talked, Abby walked around carefully, talking to this cat, laughing at another.  She reached her hand out to pet a tabby on a low shelf.  The cat was amenable at first but then squirmed out of reach.  “I think she’s all done, Abby,” I said, and Abby took a step back and put her hand out, waiting--hoping this less-intimidating invitation would be received.  The cat hung back but then slowly stepped over to offer its head.  “Gooooohd kitty,” Abby crooned in the same sweet voice she uses with Merlot.  “Whah uh niiiiice kitty.”

The woman commented on what a smart girl Abby is, how kind.  “She really is sunshine,” she said.  “How old is she?” 

“Two and a half,” I said, and then the Cat Lady resumed her description of this animal rescue, of how being there restores her faith in humanity.

When it was time for us to leave, we thanked the woman and wished her well on her travels.  “Can you say good-bye, Abby?”

“Gooh-bye,” Abby said, hopping out the door.

“Bye, Sunshine!” The Cat Lady said.  “Bye Abby Sunshine!”


It seems that with each day, Abby comes into more and more of herself.  Her person is emerging with its distinct personality and likes and dislikes and quirks.  She loves animals.  She loves to color, disappearing into a world of still and quiet for hours sometimes, her hand moving steadily back and forth with her crayon or marker, her head bent over her masterpiece, her face serious, focused.  When she plays, she laughs freely, smiles coyly, tosses her hair like a grown woman.  She asks Ben about his day at school as we drive home.  She rests her blondie head on my arm as I sit next to her at the table, coloring with her.  “I yuhv you, Mama,” she says quietly.
Abby brings a levity to our home, a buoyancy.  While Josh and Ben and I tend toward the more introverted, introspective side, Abby is pure charisma and charm and fun.  She draws us all out, especially her brother, whom she adores.  They are good for each other, bringing balance to each other’s extremes.  He provides structure where she is lacking (picking up toys comes to mind).  She offers affection and compassion when he is in a funk.  “Whah’s wrong, Behn?” she asks in her sweetest, most concerned voice, and he responds to her, comes out of himself and his moody place to be with her.

And lest you think she is all party and pretty girl, I must state for the record that she is smart, articulate-- picking up turns of phrase from our conversations, counting everything in sight, asking me how to write letters, pretending to read books.  And somehow, she is learning to control her seemingly endless energy.  After church yesterday, her teacher told us that Abby was great in class: “She sat still and listened all through the story, even when the other kids were squirming and wiggling around.”  Josh and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised.  Our Abby? we both thought.  Indeed. 

She is her own creature, no doubt given to our family to balance our analytical, type-A, engineering, structured tendencies with some exuberance, some joy.  Everyone sees it, her brightness and light.  Everyone comments on her physical beauty, which is made all the more striking by her internal delight in the world.  

Sometimes I worry about what we’ll face when she reaches adolescence with her beauty and confidence and easy charm.  But then I watch her put Ben in her place, insist that Merlot “siht” or “yeev it,” pester Josh and I incessantly for this or that, or retreat into her own soul as she colors, and I know she will hold her own in this world.  I know she will be the one calling the shots in her own kind, self-assured way. 

She really is pure sunshine: Abby Sunshine.    

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