She’s five, big sister to a three year old brother and a baby girl, and she’s teaching me sign because her parents told me she learned it as a baby.
“Your brother showed me ‘more’,” I say, tapping my clumped fingers together. “Can you show me anything else?”
We’re just having fun at this point; I’ve already finished what I’m here to do – a practice pediatric lung exam – and a rap on the door will tell me the training session is over any minute now, pulling me away from the little girl who’s already won my heart.
She breaks into a wide grin and rubs her palms together. “Cheese!”
I imitate the motion, eliciting a laugh. We do it again. Cheese. My chipped fingernail polish isn’t nearly as festive as her pink and purple nails, and I’m irrationally jealous. When did purple stop being an option for the sake of professionalism?
She’s already moving on: touching the left elbow with the right hand. Crackers. I’ve now learned a critical phrase in any kid’s life: finger tap, palm rub, elbow touch. More cheese and crackers.
I haven’t been home for more than a few minutes all day; I had a meeting after class, so dinner was a haphazard affair completed on the floor of a friend’s apartment – cheese, veggie chips, an apple and a pepper, hot chocolate. Maybe it’s not such a bad phrase for my life either.
More cheese and crackers. I add the only other phrase I’ve learned, touching my fingertips to my chin and then motioning toward her. Thank you.
Another beautiful smile below sparkling brown eyes, and someone knocks on the door.
Reluctantly, I stand, wave goodbye, and slip out the door, the smile wilting slowly on my face. When I glance back, I see the girl’s mother, a pediatrician here at the hospital, gathering her up in a big hug. My chest tightens and I am only too aware of my empty arms and the quiet apartment to which I will be returning.
I look around me to see wistful expressions on the faces of my friends, all of us walking down the hallway with stethoscopes around our necks and years of training stretching before us. We catch each other’s eyes and smile, and know that it will be all right. Someday, we tell ourselves.