4 going on 24

Have you ever had one of those moments when you look at your young child and, just for a fleeting moment, you catch a fast-forward glimpse of the adult version of her? Not the chubby-cheeked Dora-watching incarnation, but the calls-you-from-college-to-request-money-for-beer-books version?

Last night, I gave in to the latest request for Play-Doh play time. In those heady post-Christmas days, I was allowing Play-Doh to be ground into my carpet about once a week. Now we're down to a once-monthly sort of thing. I keep the mushy gunk and its related accessories in a bin at the top of her bedroom closet, so that Miss Tenth Percentile is only reminded of its existence if she looks way, way up. She has a better memory than you'd think, though. So, I set up everything in her room and then put up the baby gate so that the dogs couldn't come in and eat the Play-Doh (for whatever reason, the dogs are drawn to it like zombies are drawn to the living).

My daughter remains obsessed with birthdays (just 11 1/3 months to go!) and is always molding the grey Play-Doh into birthday cakes. It's grey because that's what always happens when one combines all the colors. She learned about the concept of mixing primary colors on Blue's Clues, but she's always asking me about weird combinations. "Mama, what do you get when you mix orange, purple, and green?" "Grey," I always think to myself.

She called me into her bedroom to celebrate a birthday - mine this time. "How old am I?" I asked. I hoisted myself over the gate.

"Four, just like me," she responded matter-of-factly. She pretended to light the candles on top of the grey blob and then sat down in a blue plastic chair (and instructed me to do the same). She folded her hands in her lap and took a deep breath.

"Happy birthday to youuuuu," she began, and then stopped. "Quick! Turn out the light!" I guess we had forgotten that this ritual requires semi-darkness. I flipped the light switch behind my head and let her finish the song. "Happy birthday, dear Maaaaamaaaaa! Happy birthday to you!" She smiled at me in the twilight, her eyes shining.

And then - for a quick moment, I saw it. A flash: a stunning young woman with still-bouncy curls, the baby fat gone from her cheeks. And then, just as suddenly, she was four again. "Now it's my birthday," she announced, snatching the Play-Doh cake out of my hands.

It's bittersweet, this business of growing up. But just when I think it is all passing too quickly, I find a fruit snack wrapper in the toy box or a mysterious sticky spot on the dog's head and then I am reminded . . . childhood has much left to offer.