Wide awake, I sat up in bed before a hint of light entered the room. I’d had another dream about Jennifer, my middle child. She’s 38 now, a wife and a mother of three. Usually, in my dreams, she’s still a little girl—shy, freckle-faced and with a brightly colored headband holding back her shiny auburn hair. I loved her hair. I’d brush it into a ponytail and kiss the tiny hollow at the back of her neck before she left for school.
Jennifer was a mama’s girl. I never minded being called in the middle of the night to rescue her from a slumber party. “I have a stomachache, Mama,” she would complain, but we both knew she was homesick. I loved having her snuggle next to me as we drove home at 2 a.m. We fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Jennifer had been five years old and her older sister, Julie, seven, when the twins were born. Everything changed.
The boys demanded so much of my time and energy, I hardly had any left for their older sisters. I was constantly exhausted—and short-tempered. Writing became my only escape. In retrospect, I saw it so clearly. Sweet, quiet Jennifer, sandwiched between the others, required almost nothing from me.
One afternoon Jennifer made a chocolate cake for a school bake sale. She did it all by herself, carefully spreading the icing between the layers, covering the cake with chocolate frosting. I stood there admiring it, when somehow she bumped the plate and the cake fell to the floor. The layers slid apart, seemingly in slow motion. We both stared in shock. Then Jennifer sucked in her breath and said softly, “I’ll have to make another one—and there’s no more cocoa.”
I glanced at my watch. Was there any way I could possibly run to the store before I picked up the boys at school and dropped them at their various practices? I was on a tight deadline for an article that was due. Before I could come up with a solution, Jennifer did. “It’s okay, Mama. I know you’re busy,” she said matterof-factly. “The top layer is fine. I’ll just take that to school.”
And I let her.
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