New birds have found our birdfeeder, though we don’t know why or how. Grosbeak weavers with long necks, bold white foreheads. They scare away the smaller birds, the firefinches and mannnekins that have been at home here so long. We all gather at the sliding glass door, move slowly, observe these new dynamics, these rowdy new neighbours.

J is memorizing the locations of African countries. She stands with Phil looking over the Rift Valley and points across the vastness. Over there is Rwanda. Somalia is that way. Tanzania over there. She is finding her place on this wide continent.

We carry heavy wooden chairs to the middle of the lawn, watch the immense sky over the valley turn every colour. The sun becomes a fireball, then hides behind the clouds sending rays of heaven in every direction. We point at cloud shapes, colour shades, rain falling in the distance, dust devils swirling at the other end of the valley. The girls pause their movie, come outside, exclaim and point, still willing to be amazed by this land of their childhood.

At night P wants me to stay close, to trace letters on her back, to sing lullabies. Her bed is lined with stuffed animals, she holds a small reading light. Wants “fancy hugs” and extra kisses. Tomorrow she turns six, this child who used to fit below my ribs. Today when I walked her to school, she kissed goodbye early, insisted she’d run the rest of the way herself, is making me less vital to the workings of her day.

We run to the soccer field in the dark, just before bedtime, to watch P fly her new kite. She calls, laughs, runs to the far end of the field, disappearing into the darkness. We all take turns, following her careful instructions. M wears a Moroccan scarf that sparkles in the street lights. P and J do floppy handstands on the hard earth, legs spread wide. Our cheers echo across the silent parking lot.

M and J work secretly each evening, drawing shimmering pictures with gel pens on black paper- pictures of leaves and swirls, floating hearts and hatching eggs. They are making a boardgame for their sister, yell too harshly whenever she tries to see what they’re doing, work with urgent creativity.

The girls and their friends write clever plays to perform for us, plays about witches and fairies, vegetables, and lots of dying. They stuff pillows up jackets, tie scarves around their waists, work through their biggest fears. We laugh and applaud, wish we could save them from all that dying, all those fears.

P and I walk through the forest on he birthday morning. She carries a long stick and whacks it at every tree branch she passes, cheers when leaves fall. At every two-trunked tree she stops suddenly and stands at attention, tells me her kindergarten teacher told her to always stare at two-trunked trees for two minutes. Our progress is slow. When we find the prayer labyrinth, she picks small seeds out of seed pods, arranges them in a circle on the stone cross, rubs crumbly leaves between her palms for confetti.

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