In grey stained pants that don’t quite reach your ankles and a floral blue stretch knit shirt, stretched much too much at the neck, your eyes brimmed with tears and your lips quivered as dada and I brought you in the doors of the school. In your classroom, you chose a seat at a table all by yourself, and were handed a sheet to colour with a ladybug on it.
“Ladybugs are good luck,” I reminded you, as I clutched the beaded necklace around my neck you made me earlier in the year with one hand, and had your sister Millie in my other. You nodded.
Millie looked at you with wide eyes and made her coo’s, in her pajamas from the night before and her bulging diaper. Though she’s usually priority number one each morning, today she was not.
Rewinding to the night prior, you joined your sister in the tub with joy. Taking your pink plastic teapot, you doused her toes with warm water, and placed a facecloth on her middle.
“She likes it!” you declared with a huge grin, and it was true, she really did.
The two of you stayed in the tub for around twenty minutes, as you gently and diligently washed her chunky body in her little seat. You talked to me sweetly about how cute your sister was with her clean, wet hair that reminded you of when she was a newborn. In a clutter of bubbles and dried flowers, which you had requested, the two of you giggled at each other and were thrilled to be confined together within the walls of our diarrhea green bathtub.
When Millie began to fuss, the two of you got out. You wrapped your bunny robe around your sticky, wet arms and body, and grabbed a nightgown from your drawer. You then met me in the living room and put an extra blankie on your naked sister as she sat propped up in her lounge seat. You chose three books and dressed yourself in your pajamas.
When Dad came back up the road from the house site where you would have liked to be helping, I announced it was time for me to bring Millie to bed. I had told you I was going to read to you tonight, but Millie’s loud screams made book one inaudible. I kissed you, and you kissed me and Millie, and I brought Millie into our bedroom where I would diaper and dress her for the night. I realized then that the diapers were in the car, so I quickly dashed out the door to grab them.
Coming back in the door, your dad sat at the computer and I made a quick scan of the room.
“Where’s Wren?” I asked, as I assumed you would be on the couch getting ready for bed. ‘Settling’ as we so often call it, in a desperate or frustrated tone.
“In with Millie I think,” he said, as he spun around.
And sure enough, as I stood at the end of our short hallway, I heard your little voice, reciting the words you could remember from your bedtime book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Your sister, in her naked spread-eagle glory, listened to your every word, and you smiled.
She was quiet. You had given her company while I had gone.
I kissed your cheek once more and thanked you, explaining it was now time for us all to get a big, healthy sleep before your first day of school, and I ushered you out of the room and closed the door behind you.
Dad settled you into bed, and I fed and did the same for Millie. For a while the house was still, until you called for me in the middle of the night, as you usually do, and I scooped you out of your bed to join us in ours. At 3am, you curled up at our feet, the only remaining space to offer, and I placed a flannel sheet over your bare legs.
In the morning, Dad cooked you cheesy scrambled eggs and I helped to dress you in the clothes you’d chosen three days before. I heated the vegetable soup you had requested for your first day of school lunch, and placed it in the thermos and soon enough, it was time to go. You wanted to announce to neighbour Frankie that you were off to school, and I asked you bring Kate over to take a quick family photo.
I scooped Millie up out of bed, curled up on my shoulder, and after some blinks and fake smile miscues, we were told we got the picture.
You got yourself in the car, and I stuffed a dozing Millie in too, and away we went.
While driving behind a slow logging truck en route, we talked about how I so wished I could have my first day of school all over again. You laughed, imagining me as a little girl, and I explained we’d likely look like twins if we were the same age for a day. When I asked if you’d be my friend if we shared a classroom, you answered with a giggly ‘yes.’
When we got to the school, Dad and I walked you in, and you realized only then upon that winding sidewalk, that this was a scary day.
And that’s when I realized, if it weren’t for Millie to distract me, I’d have lost my shit. Because the truth was, that whole bit about me wishing I could be back in school was a crock of shit.
We found your cubby to hang your backpack, and walked you into the room, where you continued to sob, and you chose a seat at a table by yourself. I continued to hold Millie and Dad sat beside you, and the ladybug drawing was set in front.
In that moment, I felt all the feelings, as I stood and bounced Millie on my hip. Since May 28, on the day she was born, you were my number two. Your feelings, your needs, your happiness, always came second. Looking at my contented, albeit half naked 3-month-old watching you crying in your school seat was almost more than I could take. I pretended to listen to your teacher talk about agendas and dues, but really I just watched you as through your tears, you focused on colouring that stolen ladybug printout from the nearby Superstore grocery store check-out.
When it was time to leave, you were one of two kids who were crying. Another parent seated his daughter beside you so you wouldn’t be alone, and as I looked back at you, your head was still down, focused on your colouring, wetting the page.
In that moment, I was so proud of you, and so was dad. If it had been me as a child, I’d have sprinted to my mom’s leg and clung on for dear life, but as you had done for the months prior, you sucked it up.
You, Wren Willow, are a very tolerant kid, more than I could have ever asked for. And the truth is, I don’t really know how I’ll be as a parent without you here. ‘Just hold your sister for me,’ I’ll say, or ‘if you could just rock her in her chair for me she’ll be happy.’ Well, I must be the luckiest shit, because not only are you always willing to do what I ask of you to help with Millie, you do it with a smile.
So as I sit here without you, on this Thursday morning rocking Millie with my right foot in her carseat, still in pyjamas and that bulging diaper, my eyes fill for the first time thinking of you, my mature little girl. I’m glad that if only for today, you were my #1 again, and that doing that made it a remarkable morning. This morning I took the time to dress you, though you always do it on your own otherwise, because today I didn’t put Millie first.
So though I am selfishly sad this morning that I don’t have you here to help me with Millie and worried about how your day will go, I am also proud as all hell of the kid I’ve raised thus far.
I decided weeks ago that my gift to you this school season would be to not place my own anxieties upon you, and I worked hard to mask my own fears. I felt you deserved to feel the excitement you had felt up until this very morning about the idea of going. And because of your bravery, you’ve made this whole development ok for me, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for that, you kind and strong child.
In just some short hours, I will stretch out my arms out to you in the parking lot. And I promise, that today my sweet girl, I’ll have both arms free for you.