Five months ago my daughters, 10-year-old Hesperus and 8-year-old Athena, came stampeding into the living room. “We’re having a crisis, Mommy,” they shouted. “Come quickly!”
I followed them into my bedroom where they were folding laundry.
“Look!” Hesperus held up some maternity jeans. “The machine broke your pants! They’re all poofy and stretched out.”
Though the girls knew I might be pregnant, they had never seen maternity clothes. I told them we were expecting a baby. Athena clapped her hands with joy. Hesperus burst into tears.
“I DON’T WANT YOU TO HAVE ANOTHER BABY!” she shouted.
For the next four months Hesperus was sullen whenever the topic of pregnancy came up. I saw her roll her eyes to her friends at school and say, “Yeah, well, my mom’s pregnant,” in a disgusted tone, as if she were saying I had head lice.
She told us she planned to be mean to the baby. She even said she wished the baby would die.
“It better be a girl,” she insisted. “If it’s a boy we’ll call it Dung Beetle.”
When I was almost eight months pregnant a friend suddenly got very sick. The doctors first thought she had a postpartum infection but quickly realized that she had an aggressive form of lymphoma. She was medically evacuated to Portland for treatment but her newborn and four other children stayed in town. Her mother-in-law started making plans to take the baby to New York City (the other children would go to California with their aunt and uncle). I burst into tears. “You can’t take the baby so far from his mom,” I sobbed. “We’ll take care of him.”
For a week we cared for the baby, who was just seven weeks old. Hesperus was kind and patient and couldn’t bear for him to cry.
“I love babies,” she sighed happily, snuggling with him. Then she added, “I just don’t love your babies Mommy.”
At 3:00 p.m. the Wednesday our baby was born the phone rang.
“Mommy, it’s Hesperus. I’m coming right home. I’m not going to gymnastics.”
“I’m so glad,” I said, trying not to sound like I was crying. “I really want you here.”
Athena and Etani, who had been excited about the baby all along, had seen their new sister before she was half an hour old but Hesperus had decided to stay at school.
She crept into the bedroom where I was holding the baby. As she looked at her little sister her face softened.
“She’s so cute. Oh Mommy. Can I hold her?”
Hesperus sat with the baby on her lap, smiling as wide as the moon. “She smells so good, Mommy. Look at her teeny fingers. Aw.”
That Saturday Hesperus held the baby for more than two hours, looking into her wrinkled tiny face and slate-colored eyes.
“She’s my little heater. I love her so much Mommy.”
It’s only been two weeks but the first thing Hesperus says when she comes home from school is “Where’s the baby? My turn to hold her!” She’s been keeping her fingernails short so the baby can suck on her pinky, she changes diapers without being asked, and she charges into the bedroom to scoop the baby up if her sister so much as makes a peep.
I have three older brothers. The eldest is ten years my senior. Hesperus is the kindest, most attentive, and most caring sibling — the big sister I always wanted but never had.
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