It was a hot morning.
Ever was tucked into my torso--wrapped like a succulent burrito--in a secure wrap. The Chief was on the grass pouring orange juice from one cup to another. We gathered with my family to watch our nieces and nephew's last day of school dance program on the front lawn.
That morning Jane woke me up early wanting a head full of braids and ribbons. Her dance was Chinese-inspired and included a wave of first graders with multi-colored ribbon sticks. Since her parents (and little brothers) were in Arizona, Chup and I were her temporary guardians. The braiding and ribbons were my responsibility. So I rubbed my hazy eyes and rolled out of bed.
Claire was required to wear khaki shorts for her second grade jungle dance. Claire isn't the type of girl to wear khaki shorts. We only had a basketfull of clothes from her house to choose from and lime-colored, polka-dotted, capris weren't subtle enough. Finally, I fished out a pair of Ollie's shorts he left behind when he camped out at our house a week before. I couldn't tell which I was more surprised for: that Claire consented to wear her five-year-old little brother's shorts or that they actually fit her. Ollie, as it turns out, is a skinny thing. He and my pinkie weigh about the same.
After the dramatics of the morning, the girls ran to school five minutes late. I looked at the clock and gave myself a gracious nod for being awake so early. In the ten days we had my sister's children at our house it was Chup who raised up with them every morning. He fixed their breakfast, he made their lunches, he sent them on their way with good will. Meanwhile, I stayed somewhat comatose in bed with my four-week old baby and a postpartum laziness that could not be ignored.
It was all so familiar. My sister in the hospital in Arizona. Me with a new baby. Chup carrying on like a soldier. My sister's children sleeping on our extra beds. Our house an unrecognizable mess. Inexplicable (but oh so explainable) food disappearances and family and friends stopping by to help.
But this time I was swamped with the flu. It took me days to recover. I don't remember much of the past two weeks other than lying in bed hearing Chup busy with little voices outside my bedroom door.
Then one night Claire threw up. She wanted fresh air, so she stayed outside on the cold porch with a blanket and extra thick socks. Every time she needed to throw up she'd panic and beg for Christopher.
And he'd come running wherever he was and hold the bucket, hold her hair and squirt the remains out with the front lawn hose.
It continued all night. From her make-shift bed in the front room that Chup padded extra with comfortable pillows, we could hear her uncomfortable plead,
And he'd roll out of bed and make it just in time.
The next day he medicated her with a banana Jamba and Kung Fu Panda. She relished in the treatment and by the day's end she was feeling better.
Jane, thank heavens, never fell to the horror of whatever we were passing along.
Neither did Chup.
These girls are remarkably stable in the instability of their lives. It is a testimony to the love they feel. They have loving parents, supportive family. Always a home to go to, always a place to be. And they are growing up to be strong-spirited sisters. More responsible, more kind and compassionate.
There they were, on this hot morning dancing with their friends. Jane with her blue ribbon stick and Claire shaking her crazy jungle hips, carrying on without insecurity. I wish their mom could've seen them.
After the dance program, I walked home behind Jane. Her ribbons bouncing up and down in her vivid red hair.
"I looked for you when I was dancing but I couldn't find you," she yelled back to me. "But then I saw you, just at the last second, up on the hill."
"You danced like a butterfly," I told her.
The next day the girls were set to fly out to Arizona to meet up with their family. They were flying alone--together--and it seemed like the greatest adventure of their lives so far. My mom helped pack their bags. I retreated to bed with my baby. The house was quiet.
Then, a knock on my door.
It was Claire.
"Are you nervous to fly alone?" I asked her, on my side trying to look awake.
"You are going to do just fine! The flight attendants will spoil you."
"Ok. But I want to write Christopher a card."
"Great. Go get my cards and markers on my desk."
Then I fell asleep. Minutes later I woke up to see Claire next to my bed, busy writing on my bedside nightstand.
I closed my eyes for a few more minutes. I could hear Claire breathing and scribbling. When I looked at her again she was paused, her eyes on the ceiling like she was in deep thought.
"Right when I leave, tell Christopher to look in the mailbox ok?" she whispered to me some time later.
"Ok," I agreed groggily.
When they left Claire hugged me good bye. In true Jane fashion avoided the emotional pull apart. She diverted and jumped in the waiting car. I understood. I know Jane.
As the car pulled away with two anxious girls and their grandparents, Chup and I stood by the window waving with lumpy throats. Just like we did the last time they left us. Even with all their extra energy, extra mess making and ice cream cone eating, those girls bless our lives every time they come to stay. We love them like they are our own.
When the car was out of site I told Chup to check the mailbox. Just like I promised I would.
"Has the mail come?" he asked.
"A special delivery for you."
It was this:
And then we bawled like babies.
I am c jane, and I do braids and ribbons surprisingly well, thank you.