My good friend Alex and her sweet little family picked up and moved to Minnesota this past year. I knew I was going to miss her - and I do - for a whole lot of reasons. Of course she had saved me over and over again at work - I could never forget that. She also fed me dinner almost every single Wednesday night (and fed me well, I might add) for the entire course of our friendship. But I think one of the most wonderful things her friendship had to offer was the opportunity to develop a relationship with her two little girls. It gave me a chance to have children in my life, and that was just pretty cool. I quickly became known as "Jen Wittwer" to distinguish me from another Jen who lived in their neighborhood, but it all ran together like it was one word: "Jenwittwer." Or, if you are the youngest of the two, "Jenwickwert." It stuck. I like it.
Alex's oldest, Kaya, is an independent little seven year-old who has a whole lot of things in life figured out for her tender age. Her move to Minnesota has been met with mixed emotions, and I think already last winter Kaya started mapping out the ten days she wanted to spend in Milwaukee during the summer months. Alex took down her requests and began to formulate a plan - a plan that was no doubt partially made by Kaya as a way to escape from the company of her adoring little sister. I was first surprised, and then honored, when I made Kaya's list of people she wanted to see while here. When a seven year-old asks to spend time with you, the only answer is yes.
With a freedom before her that only a seven year-old can appreciate, Kaya's Milwaukee adventure began last weekend. Day after day was lined up with play dates and visits to her former schoolmates, neighbors and babysitters. When my day finally arrived, I took a half day off of work and went to pick Kaya up in her old neighborhood. Her mom had speculated she might be tired by the time she got to me, but to me it seemed she was energized. Seven year-old Jen would have probably been whiny and home sick by Day 6 of the trip; conversely, seven year-old Kaya had accumulated a pocket full of stories and was ready to make some more. As we were mapping out our time together, I asked Kaya what time she wanted to go to her friend's house the following day, adding that I wanted her to have enough time with her friends. "But you are my friend, Jenwittwer, just an older friend." Point taken, my dear. Point taken.
True to tradition, Kaya and I first set out to find her first day of school outfit, for the fourth consecutive year. This is a girl who has already decided that when she grows up, she is moving to Paris to be a fashion designer. ("It is The City of Love," she explained.) When asked if she wouldn't miss her family if she moved so far away, she assured me she definitely would not miss her sister (though later confessed she invited sweet Indra to join her in Paris) and besides, "I can always Skype." So given all of this, all I really needed to do was stand back and have my credit card ready for the transaction. Without any intervention from me whatsoever, she made a great choice for the first day of school outfit.
Later in the day, we made our way out for dinner and I treated Kaya to her first hibachi grill experience. Her eyes lit up with wonder and joy as the hibachi chef put on a good show for her. She later reconciled that the chefs in those restaurants are probably trained to be all crazy like that, and I told her I thought she was probably right. After dinner, we went on a quest to find some shoes to match her new outfit. It quickly became apparent that this girl is in fact her mother's daughter. She loves her some shoes, and must have tried on 20 different pair. After awhile of himming and hawing, I could see the wheels of negotiation turn in Ms. Fashion's head. "Jenwittwer," she said, "I do have a nice pair of flip flops that are a little fancy that would match my new school outfit. Maybe I should get these boots instead to wear with my jeans. I would get a lot of use out of them." Her argument was so carefully crafted, I was left defenseless. Needless to say, she went home with a pair of boots.
At home, we spent lots of time snuggling with/playing with/mildly tormenting the cats and watched a movie. We had a little bowl of ice cream. Kaya finished hers quickly and then asked, "Jenwittwer, can I have another scoop of ice cream?" That was a no-brainer - it was an absolute yes. By 9:00, my girl was all worn out so I tucked her into bed. The next morning at 5:30, I heard her get up and she made her way to my bedroom door. "Jenwittwer, can I come snuggle with you and the cats?" Again, there is only one answer to this question, and the answer is yes. After a good spell of interaction with my amazingly tolerant cats, she drifted back to sleep. Sweet girl.
Later that morning as we were packing up her belongings, I asked Kaya what her favorite thing was of her time with me. Was it getting your new boots, I asked? "Yes, Jenwittwer, well that, and spending time with you." My heart melted, right there. Anything that girl wants from me, I'm pretty sure there is only one possible answer. The answer will always be yes.