Child: Gabrielle

James Kass
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Gabrielle just learned how to do the booty dance, and now she’s teaching it to all of her cousins. The dance is easy and rarely needs a prompt. Gabrielle simply turns her back to whomever is watching, says the words booty, booty, and then does a little shimmy-shake before collapsing in little-kid laughter. She loves it, and little Sammy-J and Jaiden watch in awe. Gabrielle is almost four, which makes her the oldest by two years on this side of the family, the Jewish side, and she’s eating it up.

It’s been a great summer so far, with lots of swimming and playing with her grandparents who live just up the way. But nothing compares to when the whole family is in town, like this weekend. This weekend they’re all celebrating Gabrielle’s Great-Grandmother’s 95th birthday. What a day! Barbecue chicken and hotdogs and hamburgers and swimming! And aunts and uncles and cousins. Little cousins! She has new words and a new bathing suit and she has this new dance to share with them.

The booty dance makes her uncles laugh too, but Gabrielle’s mother tells them to stop encouraging her. In fact, she says Gabrielle is just having a hard time saying bunny, that really she’s trying to do the Bunny Dance from the Veggie Tales cartoons. The uncles laugh at this, especially when Gabrielle pulls her pants down during the song. Even though her Mom jokes that it will take months to undo this visit from the uncles, Gabrielle will forget all about the booty dance in a few days when, like most kids, she picks up something new.

Gabrielle is an only child, and recently she’s been spending a lot of time with Dean, her pretend sibling. Mixed-race kids are on the rise in this part of New York, but not necessarily in this house. It’s OK though, because this week her little cousins are in town! And they’re great! Sammy-J talks in made-up words and follows Gabrielle wherever she goes, and Jaiden just sit there smiling, occasionally reaching out with one hand. Gabrielle likes to hold onto people’s ears while she sucks her thumb, so she’s been doing this to Jaiden recently, who is only seven months, and seems to take this in with relative ease.

There are so many words to describe her: self-assured, cute, buoyant, smart, funny, inquisitive, quick, open, and trusting. But none of them really mean anything today. Today, the only thing that matters to Gabrielle is showing Sammy-J that she’s good at swimming.

Oh, she loves to swim. She takes lessons and swims even in the winter. Her curly hair flops over her eyes when it’s wet, and she spits water from between her teeth like a champ. Today, Gabrielle’s doing a pretty good job of jumping off the steps and swimming to Pappi without the help of the blue worm-thing her mom brought to the party, although she can only paddle a yard or so on her own. Everyone is having a good time, laughing and eating and playing cards and splashing each other in the pool.

But then no one is paying attention, and Gabrielle’s under. She’s jumped when no one was looking and now she’s under. It’s only for a few seconds because everyone sees the splash and hears Sammy-J laugh, and her uncle pulls her up pretty easy. Gabrielle will even laugh less than a minute later, jumping toward her mom who is in the pool now too, but everyone else is quiet for awhile. Not only does it set up one of those parents telling other parents how to be parents incidents, but it’s also amazing to everyone older than four how quickly she sank. Straight down. Under. Below the surface. Bubbles.

Finally, everyone is out of the pool. Gabrielle is naked and drying under a big towel. She sees her uncle and Sammy-J looking at her. Booty, booty, she says, dropping the towel, turning and starting to shake. Booty, booty, they both say back to her.

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