We stood on the front porch of our house, the morning summer sun shining in our eyes. My grandmother was there to mark the occasion. It was my first day of kindergarten. The camera came out and pictures were taken to remember the "big girl's" first day of school. I was the happiest, proudest kid around.
I didn't know it then, but we were standing on a precipice.
In a matter of weeks, my parents would separate. My sister and I would leave with our mother for a new life in another town. I can't say that those days were easy for any of us. The transition to divorced is rarely smooth. Even the word is ugly in my mouth. It is bitter and grisly.
There is a long, unpleasant story that follows all of that. Fights and tears. Relationships that will never be what they might have been. There are wounds that will never heal. But much of that story is not mine to tell and I have no desire to draw blood in this way.
For a long time, it was just the three of us. My mom christened us The Butts Sisters, in part because of a familial tendency towards prominent posteriors, as yet unfulfilled in the younger members of the group,* and part because at night the three of us would snuggle into bed together, rubbing our little butts together.
Mostly, my sister and I would take turns sleeping with our mom. She didn't have a big bed and one young girl sleeping with her was likely as much as could be tolerated. But it was not unusual that the girl whose night it was to sleep alone somehow found her way into the big bed. Snuggling up with my sister and mother brought me a comfort and belonging that I can't describe.
When she was a newborn, Sophie slept in a co-sleeper bassinet attached to our bed. Occasionally I would bring her in to our bed next to me, but I was generally too afraid of rolling onto her or smothering her, so she spent most nights in her own little space. We have tried a few times since those early days to have her sleep with us, but every time was a failure. She wriggled around like a fish out of water, all arms and legs in tender spots.
However, while she has been sick this past week, I have brought Sophie in to sleep with me almost every night. At first, it was awkward, we didn't know how to sleep around each other. She couldn't find just the right nook to curl into and I couldn't figure out how to cuddle her without putting at least one limb painfully to sleep. But after a few nights, a rhythm was established. She found her spot and I discovered an addiction to laying next to my sleeping daughter.
All these years, I thought my mom had allowed us to sleep with her. That she was just doing the motherly duty and comforting us when we were scared or lonely. It didn't really occur to me that there was happiness to be found on the other end. The tunnel vision of children, even grown ones, I suppose.
It's funny how your perceptions change when you become a parent. How the things that seemed one way were, in fact, very different. While these past days with my sick child have been rough, let there be no confusion on one fact. I get every bit as much out of our snuggle times as my daughter, maybe more.
*Don't worry, time would prove the nickname very appropriate in my case, far less so in my skinny sister.