Sometimes I spend too much energy on the mechanics of parenting. I set a goal to create something, whether it's a lesson in kindness or a memory for the whole family, when the truth is that we'd all be better off if I just let us learn through living. I end up trying to be an architect of memories, thinking that if I arrange the art project just so or if I plan the adventure out with care, then I can slip moments in time in each of my girls' heart that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. I work at creating these moments like a puzzle, turning ideas in my mind, sorting options, and then putting my head down until I make the pieces fit. The weight of wanting and needing to nurture memories can be tremendous. Every once in a while something happens and I am completely awestruck by how the girls are the tenders of memory and cultivators of kindness.
“Hey mom, can you wake me up early to work on the borrower house out back?” Briar asked me as she slipped her glasses from her face and set them on a shelf.
“Sure, how early?” I asked.
“I don’t know, maybe like 30 minutes?” she was already sleepy, her face sinking into the pillow. I kissed her forehead and said I’d see her in the morning.
“The girls too?” she murmured.
“The girls?” I asked.
“Yes, will you wake the girls early too so that we can play together?”
“Sure,” I whispered.
It felt like minutes when my alarm rang. I padded to her room and crawled into bed with her. I wrapped my arms around her and she turned and pretzeled right back into me. Nuzzling her forehead I told her that it was time to wake up. She burrowed for a bit, before finally lifting her head and mumbling, “Is Ave up?”
I chuckled and told her not yet. “Get dressed and have something to eat and then I’ll get Ave.” She rolled over in bed clenching her eyes shut. I waited. She was still, birds celebrated another morning outside her window and the scent of lilac wafted through the screen. Then it came, a long stretch induced moan as she pushed her legs out, straightened her arms, and swung her body up with a flourish. She stared at me, inadvertent duck face as she pushed away sleep.
“I’m going,” she said as she walked to her closet. I went downstairs and poured a cup of coffee. She came down ten minutes later and set about making herself breakfast. I went upstairs to wake her sisters. Ave was up like a rocket, Finley on the other hand, was not to be roused. A pattern of 3am wake ups had her sleeping hard to make up for lost time. I let her be.
As I walked downstairs I heard them conspiring.
“Ok, so you find the clovers and I’ll bring the goblets and the string. We can make a path and a bathroom.”
“What are you guys talking about?” I asked.
Without so much as a look at one another they chirped, “Oh nothing,” and scooted out the back door. I watched them scurry around, tucking stray tendrils behind their ears and calling to each other. They’d been building, for weeks now, a space beneath their tree fort amid the gnarly roots of the pine tree, a kind of outdoor community for borrowers. They placed “special tools” in clear view for the borrowers—a ten-penny nail, “to protect themselves from predators,” a scrap of tulle “to make a petticoat.” It all took me back to my own childhood and searching for fairy blankets in the morning.
Eventually I had to call them in, “Briar, you need to be at the bus in about five minutes. Come get packed up, please.”
They rushed in and Avery said, “I could go with Briar, she could ride my electric scooter and then I could ride it home.” I furrowed my brow and told her that there wasn’t enough time. As Briar struggled to zip her backpack, I knelt down and offered to help. “You’re going to have to hurry, Briar.” She nodded and promised to run.
Ave looked sad and I said, “You can still walk Briar to the bus, grab some shoes.” She sprinted to the other room and crammed her feet into Crocs. I held the door and she ran down the stairs. Briar was already down the driveway. She looked up at me stricken. “Run, you can catch her, honey,” I called down.
She sprinted down the drive, but Briar was already around the corner. When Ave turned around her face was crumpled, tears streaming down her cheeks and her mouth open in a silent scream. Lately they’d been sparring so often, I’d almost forgotten the presence of sister worship.
“Ave, babe, it’s ok,” I called and I walked toward her. She made a keening sound. I wrapped my arms around her, “Honey, it’s ok. I’m sorry she ran, she wasn’t running from you. She needed to catch the bus.” Her mouth stayed open as if if hurt too much to close. I rubbed her back and kissed the top of her head.
“Hey, you know what? Can I tell you something?” I asked. She nodded into my chest, then moved her head back to look at me.
“Last night Briar asked me to wake her up early so that she could play out back, then she asked me to wake you and Fin up.” She looked unimpressed. “This morning when I woke her up she asked me to wake you up. She wanted you to be with her, she didn’t want to do the borrower stuff without you. Your name was the first word out of her mouth.”
She looked at me and then back down the driveway. When she turned back to me her face was radiant. “Mom, can I go do some more things? I want to surprise Briar, and maybe you could wake Fin so she can help me.” Her face was streaked with tears.
I nearly choked on my joy. “I can definitely do that,” I said. She ran toward the backyard and I stayed where I was. The birds continued their song and as the leaves overhead rustled I marveled at the unexpected beauty in the bonds of sisters and the simple truth that if we let them, our kids discover why kindness feels good.