As our time with my niece began to come to an end, I took her aside a few days ago to discuss the plan.
Me: I have an idea. What about if you don't go back to Michigan? On the day you are supposed to leave, I'll hide you in a closet, and we'll let mommy just take your stuff on the plane and you can stay here.
Her: (Eyes shining) Really? You can do that?*
Me: Sure! But you'd have to be very quiet and not tell her ahead of time about the plan. Can you keep a secret?**
Me: OK. So what we'll do is let her take all the things that we won't be needing with her. What about that big heavy jacket? You won't need that in California, right?
Her: Mommy can take it.
Me: The Uggs can go, too, huh?
Me: Anything else?
Her: (Thinking hard) I think maybe she can take the books that I already read, but we can keep the new ones here.
Me: Good idea. I like it. So, we're all set then?
She brings my kids in on it.
Her: Guys, I'm going to be locked in the closet.***
Them: Um, OK.
Her: But I'm not going to have any boots.
Them: Um, OK.
Her: Don't tell my mom.
Them: No problem.
There is a lot of winking and nodding amongst us conspirators, and we're having a great time. We even discuss detaining her mom in the closet, too, and just letting all the luggage go by itself. That variation meets with universal enthusiasm, but we are stumped on how to exactly do that without her finding out. No matter, it's now our working operational mandate.
Then, this morning, I catch her staring at me hopefully, glancing meaningfully at the jacket her mom has put on top of the suitcases, and I know I have to come clean. I take her aside again.
Me: You know our plan about you staying here with me?
Me: Well, I realized that I was being really, really selfish when I made that plan. You have teachers in Michigan who are waiting to see you tomorrow, and they will be so sad when you don't come to school. And all your friends will miss you terribly. Your grandma in Michigan will be sad. Your cousins in Michigan will be super sad. It's unfair for me to keep you to myself when all those people will be sad without you.
Me: So, I think we might have to cancel the plan, and just have you come back here as soon as you can instead. How does that sound?
Her: (grudgingly) OK.
We have a wonderful morning walking the dog, feeding the ducks, and generally soaking up the sun before they have to head out for the airport. The trunk is stuffed with four bulging suitcases. Plane snacks are in the backpack. All systems are go. We pull out onto the freeway and are soon mired in traffic on the way to drop them off.
A voice comes from the back seat.
Her: Auntie Shar? I don't actually have to go to school tomorrow. My teachers have a lot of other kids in the classroom besides me. So I could stay. If you want.
* I am all powerful. When she first arrived, her 6th birthday was coming up on Sunday. She was counting the days:
Her: Friday. Saturday. Sunday!
Me: There's no Sunday this week.
Her: There's always a Sunday! Listen to this song, Auntie Shar.
She proceeds to sing a "days of the week" song.
Me: I know that one! It goes, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Tuesday!
Her: (Laughing, but a tiny bit worried). No. That's not right!
We go back and forth, me consistently skipping Sunday and throwing in Wednesday or Friday or whatever, and eventually we move on to other jokes. Over dinner later that night, her mom asks her to finish her carrot sticks.
Her: Mommy, if I finish my carrots, will Auntie Shar let it be Sunday again?
** Until this plan was formulated, she had never kept a secret in her life. For example: as soon as she saw my mom, she yelled, "Grandma! We got you a Snuggie for Christmas! It's a surprise!
*** I said hide, not locked. I don't want to live to be 105.