On one of her return trips, Adrian came to a sudden stop when she laid eyes on the two neighbor kids, Maddie (4 years old) and Bubba (2, almost 3—only one day older than Adrian). I greeted their father and gave Adrian a nudge in their direction. Maddie, slender and about the same height as Adrian, reached out to put her arm around my daughter. "Do you want to come play with us, Adrian?" she asked. Adrian lowered her eyes and inched away slowly—almost imperceptibly—until she found the shelter of my legs. Bubba, also about Adrian's height but stocky and about 15 pounds heavier, looked up at me with a big grin and chortled.
The kids' dad and I talked. I paused during the conversation to pick a ladybug off my shirt and handed it to Adrian. She emerged from my shadow and her deliberate avoidance of the other kids and put the ladybug to task crawling all over her hands and arms.
She is a master ladybug wrangler.
The other two kids joined in, and within minutes they had found common ground. Although Adrian didn't speak a word, they exchanged knowing looks regarding the ways of the ladybug, and by the time the beetle flew away, I believe Adrian had become intrigued by these two smallish people in her driveway.
I saw a slow smile crinkle the corners of her mouth. She sidestepped one of Maddie's advances—four quick steps to the right. Maddie followed. Adrian took five steps in another direction. Maddie and Bubba followed. Her face broke into a wide grin: Now she knew what to do.
Adrian ran. And the kids ran with her.
Or, they tried. Bubba fell splat onto his belly, laughed loudly, and scrambled up to continue the pursuit. Maddie, who looked a little confused at what was happening, stayed on Adrian's heels. My daughter accelerated and quickly put distance between herself and the other kids. She changed direction without warning, throwing them off momentarily. The three moved in a pack of ever-changing size and shape. Sometimes they would be clumped one on top of the other, then Adrian would shoot off and run through open ground all alone while the other two scrambled to keep up.
I have been reading Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, the best-seller that focuses on a tribe of runners in the Copper Canyon of Mexico. One scene describes the Tarahumara children warming up before a day of school with a running game, covering great distances in a pack where the small kids run shoulder-to-shoulder with the big kids. I stood there and watched Adrian, and could imagine her running with those Rarámuri children: Her head turned alertly to keep an eye on her pursuers as she ran in the opposite direction; upper body straight and upright, arms relaxed, as her red-and-orange sundress swirled with her; long legs reached out strong and steady to carry her from concrete to the rough terrain of our yard, and her sandal-clad feet flexed and pushed her forward. Her movements were coordinated and calculated, but at the same time free and improvised. Her face was relaxed and glowing with what could only be described as joy.
When the other two kids grew tired of chasing Adrian, their father scooped them up and carried them back to their house.
"Can I play with them again?" Adrian asked me when they were out of earshot.
"Sure," I told her.
"Now?" she asked.
I smiled. "Maybe another day," I said.
"I want to run," said Adrian, and she took off running down the sidewalk in the direction of Maddie and Bubba's house. I jogged after her. By the time we got to their house, Maddie was riding her bicycle down a long stretch of sidewalk, with Bubba and her dad following close behind. Adrian stopped running and watched them go, a small distance growing between her and the bike. Then, she furrowed her brows, set her lips in an intense frown, and said, "Ready... Get set... Mark!" and she was off.
Adrian the hunted was now Adrian the hunter.
Adrian reached the dad, evaluated the best way to pass, then cut to his left and accelerated by him. Next: Bubba. That one was easy—she jogged past him without a second glance. Then: The bike. She covered the empty ground between Bubba and Maddie, who pedaled along at a decent clip. Adrian wove back and forth slightly, observing the bike's speed, its slightly wavering path down the center of the sidewalk. Then, one burst of speed and Adrian fired past the bike, showing Maddie her heels for about 20 yards.
Then Adrian stopped. The group overtook her and continued down the sidewalk. She waited patiently for them to get a good head start. Then, "Ready... Get set... Mark!" And she repeated the hunt at least two more times until they reached the end of the sidewalk.
At this point, as Maddie, Bubba, and their dad headed back for their house, Adrian went to work picking grass and making a small nest "for the birds," she said. This nonchalant distraction was her way of catching her breath without admitting that she was tired. After a few minutes of nest-building, Adrian swung up onto my shoulders and we walked home, squinting our eyes against the setting sun.
From her perch, Adrian prompted me: "Run, Mommy."