One of my nieces posted a Facebook message tonight, with a picture of her two tiny boys frolicking in the grass, happy that their big sister had just come home from school.
And, oh, the sweet memories that swept me when I saw the photo.
There was a fall day, 21 years ago, when I was at home with my newborn son and his two year old brother. My daughter was off at school, a big, independent girl in the first grade. As the day drew on, and the sun began to set, my middle child, my sweet Matty, stood in the window, waiting and waiting for his sister to return. He was too small to easily see out, so he stood perched on his toes, balanced on the baseboard heaters, his hands gripping the wooden window frame, his eyes alert for the slightest sign of movement on the street.
At last, at last, he caught sight of her, his precious big sister, making her way up the road with her buddy, Alex.
“She’s here! Katie’s here!”, he cried, jumping to the floor and clutching his chest. “My heart’s ‘most brokeded, I’m so excited! She’s here!” I scooped him up to give him a hug, and we went together to the door to meet her, our very own Kate, home from a long day away from us. She came inside, all filled with sunshine and joy as she always was. She tossed her backpack in a corner, then asked if she could go to play at her best friends’ house, a mile away from our house.
Matt and I were both stricken at the thought of giving her up again so soon, and he made a small sound of protest. But I knew that she was a big girl, and that she needed her time with her friends. “Sure”, I said, “I’ll drop you off and come back for you in an hour.” I loaded both of my baby boys into the car, and kissed my girl as I dropped her at our friend’s house. We drove away, to get the ice cream cone that I had promised Matt as a poor consolation prize for losing his favorite playmate for the afternoon.
The car was quiet. I searched for something to say that would make my little boy feel better. I didn’t know how to explain that although we loved her the most in all the world, our Kate needed to find her way in the wide world of friendships. I didn’t know how to make him feel better after his long vigil by the window was so cruelly mocked by her brief presence and then her loss.
We got our ice creams, and we headed back down the road in the gray light of dusk. As I looked out at the road ahead of me, I heard a deep sigh, followed by the sweet husky voice of my little boy.
“Katie’s so special”, he said. “She’s like gold.”
She is. She really is.