This afternoon, I was folding laundry on a piece of plywood that serves as a temporary countertop while our kitchen is being renovated. I have to be careful not to snag good shirts on splintered wood, which leaves stab marks in the palms of my hands whenever I try to wipe crumbs off the surface. But those wounds don’t hurt half as bad as watching a little girl grieve…for her sister.
Maryn walked into the room and wasn’t amused by my fight with a fitted bed sheet. She crashed into my waist, wrapping herself in the fabric still warm from the dryer.
She began to cry.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. This isn’t our dramatic child, so when she gets upset, we know it’s for a good reason.
“Ava won’t play with me.”
Where is she? I inquired. And then I heard her. She was on the iPad, FaceTiming a friend from school. There were squeals and giggles that symbolized a close friendship between two tweenage girls. A duo. But three’s a crowd.
Maryn’s heart was breaking. ”She doesn’t want to play anything with me anymore,” she cried.
I walked over to the couch and awkwardly pulled Maryn onto my lap. Her hot cheeks were soaked with tears.
“She played with you all summer. Every single day,” I began. ”You got attached to her, didn’t you?”
“Then she started school and became the teacher’s helper, which means she doesn’t even ride with you anymore because she has to be there so early.”
She nodded again.
“Now, when she comes home from school, she goes to her room,” I continued. ”After a while, someone calls for her on the phone or the iPad, and she talks to them instead. Am I right?” I asked.
She fell back into my shoulder and cried harder.
“And you miss her.”
I didn’t notice a gap between my girls once they were in school together. Ava, age 10, and Maryn, age 7, have been inseparable since the day they were introduced. Now, it’s the first of many breakups.
Ava is changing. I expected this. What I didn’t expect was Maryn’s grief. I never imagined her feeling so lost or so left out in our own home. I was an only child, so I never had a brother or sister to play with. I never had anyone to idolize. I never had that connection.
“What would you like to play?” I asked her.
“Anything,” she sobbed. ”Barbies. School. Anything.”
Maryn sniffed and wiped her nose on my shoulder. She breathed in hard and let out an exhausted sigh. A lump hardened in my throat. She’s slowly losing her best friend, for a while I assume, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I lifted Maryn aside and told her I’d be back in a second. Downstairs in my office, Ava was on the computer developing a PowerPoint presentation. (Hey — at least it’s school related FaceTime!).
Ava said goodbye to her friend when she saw my expression.
“What….?” she asked, sheepishly.
“Maryn is upstairs, crying, because she wants to play with you,” I told her. ”And she’s very sad because you haven’t been paying any attention to her lately.”
“Oh,” Ava said, her shoulders slumping.
“You’re getting older. You’re in fifth grade. You have your own friends and your own fun,” I continued. ”But she misses you, and all she wants is to have a little of your time.”
Ava sat there for a moment. ”Am I in trouble?” she asked.
No. You’re in a different stage of life, I explained. There’s no fault in that. It’s just part of it.
But Maryn doesn’t understand.
“A half-hour would mean so much,” I prodded.
Ava nodded again and walked upstairs. I heard her call Maryn’s name and then I heard two feet hit the hardwood floor and pound across the room.
That’s when I sat down in this chair, closed out of PowerPoint and opened up the blog site to write this post. I had to capture the moment that my oldest child took another step forward, rather invisibly to her mother, who doesn’t understand sibling rivalry or sibling bond. Yet, I envy those girls. Even on their worst days of bickering and tattling, I envy their love.
Next August (possibly July), Ava will attend a different school. She and Maryn won’t be together again until her senior year. Then, it will be Ava’s turn to take the gigantic step away from home. Away from all of us. When this happens, I’ll be stationed at the same kitchen counter (which better be made of quartz by then), crying over a much lighter load of laundry. But I feel certain that Maryn will be right there with me.