Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The other day my sister Erin and I were discussing, for whatever reason, what age we were when we started being responsible for bathing ourselves. Honestly, I could not remember. The closest thing I could remember is a very specific incident where I remember bathing my sister Emma, and she was most definitely 7. Now, it may have been one of those cases where it was my role to supervise and help her wash her hair, I don't know, but I definitely remember drying her off. I remember because she asked me a really profound question, surrounding a really difficult circumstance my family was facing at the time, and that is why I so clearly remember what we were doing and how old we were.

Emma used to have this long, curly hair. I remember, after washing it that night, I combed it out for her. As I remembered, I could almost smell the shampoo -- it came in a little bottle with a big animal eye on it and smelled like strawberries. And it made me wonder: when I helped Emma comb her hair for the last time, did I know it was going to be the last time?

I should probably note that I am the oldest of five kids. There's me then my sister Erin who's 2 years younger than me, then Alex who is 5 years younger, then Thomas who is 7 years younger, then Emma who is 10 years younger. So I spent a lot of my younger life helping out with little kids. I helped with baths and meals and diaper changes. And I know that some of the time I did resent it.  Not most of the time, but some of the time.

When my mom used to serve dinner, she'd always prepare the plates of the youngest kids first, so she could place in them in the fridge to cool off so the little ones wouldn't burn their tongues. I reminded my mom of that not too long ago, and it made her smile. I wonder when that last dinner was that we did that for Emma? Did we consciously decide we weren't going to do it anymore? Or did we just stop one day? Was it just a nondescript Tuesday evening when I placed Emma's meal of pasta and vegetables in the fridge for the last time? When I changed Emma's last diaper, was I aware it was the last time? What about when I held her hand to take her to the bathroom at a restaurant?

This past summer I was at an outdoor movie downtown and needed to use the bathroom. When I entered, I saw an older girl, maybe 12, with an exasperated look leaning on a stall door. I could hear a little girl's voice from inside the stall. I smiled at the older girl and said "One day they become old enough to take themselves to the bathroom" and she smiled. Did I walk Emma to the bathroom at a McDonald's for the 437th time not realizing I would never do that again?

Things were definitely not perfect in or with my family growing up, but sometimes I really think I'd give anything to go back for one day. One day when I'm 12 and Erin is 10 and Alex is 7 and Thomas is 5 and Emma is 2. It's 1996 and we're all at our old house on Young Court. I'm pushing Emma on a swing and we're all playing outside in the backyard.

But then I remember... it's 2013, and I'm 29. And Emma is 19, a sophomore in college and able to push herself on a swing. Things change so quickly, don't they? We didn't know. We didn't know it would be the last time cooling off the kids' food in the fridge. We didn't know that was the last time Emma would need supervision in the bathroom or someone to comb her tangles. It's probably best that we didn't know or I'd probably still be combing Emma's hair right now.

This is us at Christmas 2011. I have no idea where last year's Christmas photo is. Shows you how often we take pictures together. 

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