In the morning, Stella refuses my offer of crayons, snacks, books, stuffed animals, and amusing herself in another room. She insists on watching me spay our puppy. “If I get scared, I’ll hide behind the wall,” she tells me. She has always known herself this well.
So we follow Skip, tugging on her leash, into the clinic. I press my stethoscope to Skip’s chest, with Stella at my elbow. She watches carefully as I draw some pain medication and a sedative into a syringe and inject it into Skip’s muscle. She stands close as I shave a small patch of hair on Skip’s forearm and place a catheter into the vein.
I juggle my two hats—mom and veterinarian—describing each step to Stella, in a light voice, before it happens. She is poised, ready for each next moment. She closes a drawer I absentmindedly leave open.
Stella never flinches as Skip relaxes, then slides into sleep during my next injection. I curve a tube past Skip’s adult incisors and puppy canine teeth, into her trachea. The technicians shave her belly and vacuum it. Stella follows us into surgery.
Where does this fit into her four years of experience? Stella collects subtleties and figures things out. She understands more than what we tell her. She has seen dog sickness, injury, death, and, now, anesthesia in dogs. Today, she sees inside her dog.
While I close the body wall, Stella helps to arrange soft blankets in a cage, complete with a pillow. She squats beside me as Skip awakens with her fluffy head in my lap. As I carry Stella into preschool that afternoon, the powder from inside my size 6 ½ surgical gloves lingers on my wrists.
When Sam and I pick up Stella from preschool, she tells him that we spayed Skip today. He is awestruck and horrorstruck that she watched it.
“How did it look?” Sam wonders.
“Red.” Stella is matter-of-fact, but doesn’t want to give him many details. This experience is hers to keep.
“What was your favorite part about spaying Skip today,” I ask Stella.
“When you listened to her heart.”
Truly, that’s my favorite part, too—my daughter’s soft hand on my thigh as I kneel with my stethoscope. I can sense Stella’s neurons firing—curiosity and attentiveness. I can feel her big heart beating.