I hear him behind me, leaning onto the chair that holds his yellow school bus, a small plastic figure of a little girl with Afro puffs and a pink skirt, and a grey dog frozen in an eternal pant.
“Bye, bye,” he says, lifting the girl and carrying her over to another part of the kitchen, continuing his conversation and roping in a tractor and a piece of Tupperware as he sinks down to the floor. His cadence picks up and I hear him talking to his toys. His language is sprinkled with what I assume are phrases he often hears at day care, and I note that many of those phrases are full of affection and loving kindness. His growing menagerie expands to encompass his dolls, his cars, whatever else he decides to bring into his universe to mark the time between arriving home and the time it takes to prepare dinner.
Back to the school bus on the chair. More construction of his imaginary world, more words I cannot make out over the preparation of food or the running water for dishes. I tend to dread the time before dinner is ready, tend to curse my own lack of preparation which forces me to feed E a set of courses rather than one complete meal.
Not tonight, though. He plays, and plays, and plays. He plays through the time it takes me to roast the salmon and tomatoes, to make some black beans, to microwave the rice, and to even slice a few pieces of avocado. For a moment, I marvel and think I might have a chance if there was ever a Top Chef: Mom Edition.
When I finally sit him down to dinner, he complies, casting one wistful look at the bus and the girl and the dog.
They will wait until he returns.