Do What You Gotta Do
Three year old Kennedy is dancing, interpreting Nina Simone’s “I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl.” She sways from side to side and bends from the waist, letting her dirty blonde hair and fingertips sweep the floor.
“Nina sounds like a boy,” she says. Kennedy has been on a first name basis with the artist since she could talk. She is upright now. Her feet are planted twenty inches apart on the carpet, arms swaying over her head, keeping slow time. Her hips sway left as her arms arc right. She claims to be Ariel, The Little Mermaid and calls me Flounder. She does look like a sea anemone. “I need a little Swedish down in my bowl,” she sings in her high thin voice. Story hour in daycare has been featuring children from around the world.
It occurs to me, not for the first time, her mom might not approve of her daughter memorizing the words to this song. I decide it’s time to retire Nina before she gets me in trouble. The CD ends. I eject it and put it in its jewel case at the bottom of the pile. “How about some Sergeant Pepper?”
She used to like the Beatles, but now she holds her nose. She says, “Isn’t Nina lovely?” Her use of the word lovely slays me. I am rapt. I am undone. She is three years old and uttered the words, “Isn’t Nina lovely?” There has never been a more articulate, talented, cuter kid. I am willing to risk our daughter-in-law’s disapproval to nurture this child’s genius. “You want more Nina?”
But I am too slow in asking. She’s got a life-sized plastic blowfish in her hand and is racing around the room with it. “I’m Tinkerbell. You be Cheese.” I believe I know this Cheese character. Cheese is a mousy little mouse who does whatever Tinkerbell tells him to do. I don’t want to be Cheese. I want to be Nina or at least I want to dance to Nina. I take Nina out of the jewel case and turn the volume low. “Why do you have a fish, Tinkerbell?”
“It’s a flying fish. We’re flying.”
Nina sings, “Do what you gotta do.”
“Nina can be Peter Pan,” Kennedy says. She and the blow fish stop racing around the room. She drags her step stool in front of the couch, stands on it, and waves the fish over her head.
“I’m the only one who can’t fly,” I complain.
“You can be Peter Pan and Nina can be a boy mouse,” Kennedy says. “With big wings like a dragon.” She spreads her arms, roars, and trips off the step stool. “I’m alright,” she says, landing on her knees. She stays on her knees, squeaks, and crawls under the dining room table. I peek under the table cloth. “Come on, Nina. Hide from the dragon with me,” she says. And just like that I am Nina Simone, taking a breather for a moment under my dining room table before I slay the next dragon.
Originally appeared in Shaking Like a Mountain and Fiction Daily