On Wednesday, we ran out of Colby cheese...

Lily came to me, the pout already forming, her shoulders showing her frustration. "Make a list," I suggest, "to help us remember next time we go to the store."
Anticipating her argument, I say:
"You don't know how to write the word, but you can draw a picture."
She seems ok with this. Somewhere she finds a sticky note and a pen.
"Momma, will you write 'Colby cheese' on my list first please," she asks.
I do. With care, printing carefully for her to recognize the letters - but hurrying all the same, because I have work to do.
Then she goes to work. I hear her in the kitchen, asking Daddy-o what else might be needed. 
Later, she shows me her finished list, but I'm busy, and I nod away, distracted. I hear her say something about tomatoes, organic celery, and the dot in the middle - for the cheese with the yellow dots.

On Friday at noon we pick up Eric from work. "Let's swing by Trader Joe's," I suggest, mostly because I'm hungry, and I remember that we're out of cheese.
"Momma," Lily says urgently, "We forgot my list! Oh no!"
"Don't worry," I say, "I looked at your list." I had hung it on my computer, where it stayed. 
"Oh," she says, relieved. "Ok."
We buy cheese, two kinds, and the check out lady gives her stickers. Lily hesitates... a small murmur coming out of her mouth as she looks down at the stickers, then raises her eyes a bit, unsure.
The checkout lady is harsh, sighing too loudly... as if she has been accosted by too many rushing, busy customers already. "What, is that not enough stickers?" she barks at Lily. 
For a moment, I'm shocked. For a moment, I see myself. Then, I watch as Lily's head falls further. I want to rescue her. I am sure that I shouldn't, and at the same time, sure that I must.
"Are you thinking of Thea?" I say.
"Oh," the cashier speaks slightly gentler this time... "Well, if you're planning to share them..." She tears off a few more stickers, places them a bit too roughly in Lily's gentle hands. I see her shoulders lift just a bit, despite her still unsure eyes. I am not a bad girl. I am not ungrateful. I am not forgetful. It was for Thea! For my sister! I want her to have some too!
I wonder  how many times I've missed that. Assumed the worst. Crushed that gentle spirit - what, isn't that enough? But for now, for now I see. 
I can hear the longing in the loud beat of her heart as I held her tiny, growing hand. 
I don't know what to say, in that moment. "I love you," I say.

"I saw you went to ask for some stickers for Thea, but then you saw that there were plenty, plenty to share. And you stopped yourself." 
"Yes," she says. I understand. She had been counting them, looking them over. There were plenty. She hadn't noticed at first, that question always on top of her mind - "something for my sister too?"
"Be confident," I say, "It's good to be cautious, but you can be confident too. You did fine. You did fine."
I don't know why I tell her this. As if to tell myself, "be confident. She will be fine. She is fine."

When we get home, the cheese goes in the fridge and we are on our way off to another activity. A long drive. Christmas songs. Food. Noise. Strange faces. It's my mother's school class - 6-8th graders - celebrating at a sponsor's home in the country. We don't really belong here, but we are welcome.
We leave late, tired, full, glad to have been together. As we reach home, she's hungry again. She tells me from her carseat.
"How about a piece of cheese," I offer.
"I was thinking an egg and cheese," she counters. "An egg, over-easy."
I mull this over. I could just say no, but then, I've been there. Hungry at the wrong time. If it was me, I'd grab a snack.
"My concern is that if you eat too much, your body will think it's time to play and wake up and be alert again," I say. "It's so late already."
"Momma," she says, "I am a very smart girl. I will know that it is sleep time even if I have an egg over-easy."

You can't really argue with that.
In the next few minutes, everything happens - Thea wakes up, the cast iron skillet starts to spit the heating butter, cheese is sliced... and all of the sudden I hear it, that little, always passionate voice:
"Oh no! We forgot these things on my list!" She's gotten it down from beside me, off my computer. I look up. 

"We forgot tomatoes and celery!" She points at her note, as if she is reading it off, word for word - but there are only crudely drawn rectangles, scribbles. Scribbles I passed over all too quickly. Scribbles that she understood completely.
Eric looks at me, eyebrows raised. I look back, shaking my head.
"Wow," I whisper.
Lily goes back to her egg.
"Momma?" she says, confidently. "When Daddy is cooking at my restaurant, he is going to have to get better at eggs over easy."

I wonder, for a moment, where the time has gone. But then, I know. Some of it has been spent, staring in wonder at these little ones, enjoying them, holding their hands, watching from afar. Some, fighting for them, protecting them, giving everything for them. 

And some, far too much, has been spent in a busy, hurried frenzy of life - so busy that I forget the weight of a child's note and the miracle of a perfectly cooked egg.

December 14, 2014 by Jessica Schaefer

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