Teaching moments

"Mama, my turn?" "Yes, baby."

So she spins the wheel and gets to add two cherries to her bucket. I ask her to count each cherry as she removes it from her tree.

Mama's turn. I spin and get the upturned cherry cart, which means every cherry I've removed from my tree must now go right back on. I try not to sigh too loudly. This time is about bonding, helping teach Buttercup how to take turns, build better counting skills, and learn to follow directions. It is not about me and my obsessively competitive nature or beating the pants off my three-year-old in a high stakes game of Hi-Ho Cherry-O.

We go round after round, adding and removing cherries, counting each and every one, until finally, Buttercup and I are down to just a few each. It's anyone's game...unless, of course, one of us upturns the cherry cart again and has to start over from scratch. If that happens, we won't finish the game. Buttercup does not have Monopoly-like attention skills yet, which is how long Hi-Ho Cherry-O can take if you have the bad luck to keep knocking over that damn cart when spinning the wheel of fortune.

"Mama! How many did I get?" She has her hand ready, fingers flared, to grab her cherries for her bucket. With just four cherries left on her tree to my seven, she's already mouthing her victor's cry of "Hi-Ho Cherry-O!" under her breath.

"Three, baby. Now count three cherries..."

And she does...One, two, three...And then she smiles at me, eyelashes fluttering, as she tells me she loves me. I love you too, I say, trying to keep my composure as I watch her palm the remaining cherry and dump it in her bucket with the three she rightfully earned.

She looks down at her tree, as if seeing it for the first time, and her eyes grow wide. " Mama! I winned! I winned! Hi-Ho Cherry-O!"

To her credit, she actually sounds surprised.