THE BLOG

My Sister, My Valentine

02/10/2015 01:02 pm ET | Updated Apr 12, 2015

One thing about motherhood that continues to amaze me is the way my children are conduits to my own past. They'll be doing something mundane -- brushing teeth or making flowers out of Play-Doh -- and BAM! They'll toss out a remark, or tilt their head a certain way, and just like that, I'm transported to the days of Toughskins and Mary Janes.

It happened again this past weekend; a weekend flush and furious with Valentine jitters. The girls attacked doilies and heart-shaped cutouts like little crackhead Cupids. There were so many glitter-bombed projects in the works that our windows probably glowed in the dark.

I watched the girls out of the corner of my eye most of the weekend. I couldn't help myself. They thought I was chopping vegetables and stirring soup, but what I was really doing was spying. Unabashed, full-on spying... eavesdropping included.

I'm a big advocate of spying. The good stuff comes out when you spy.

My older daughter, Miss D., was particularly satisfying to snoop on, because this year, she decided to custom-make Valentines for each kid in her class. These suckers were tricked-out. D. worked her way down the class list, and as she was making each card, she vocalized her decorating strategy. Sort of like Project Runway for third graders.

It went something like this: "Okay I'm almost finished with David's card. I put hearts on it in Army camouflage colors because David's crazy for military stuff. His uncle just finished Navy school. That's why there's a soldier over in the corner. Should I make him holding a gun? Would Mrs. Lewis get mad about that? *pauses, considering* How about if I make the gun but hearts are shooting out of it? I think that would look kinda cool. Hey, M., should I make heart-shaped bullets?"

I was riveted the whole weekend. And I mean ALL weekend, because custom Valentines take wicked long to make. I've never stirred so much soup in my life.

Watching them shot me back to my own days at the kitchen table, cutting out hearts with grade-school precision. My older sister always chattered as she worked, and I was a rapt audience. Her (almost) 4-year advantage made her exotic and mysterious; I figured that if I paid close attention, I'd learn so much from her expertise that by the time my teenage years rolled around, I'd be a professional.

Ahem. Well, that didn't happen, but it was still swell entertainment.

This past Sunday evening, after a particularly ardent affair with the glitter glue, I ordered the girls to the showers. Miss D. rolled her terrible eyes and gnashed her terrible teeth, but finally relented. As she huffed upstairs, she stopped mid-way and tossed over her shoulder, "Hey M.? Will you come up and keep me company?"

BAM. Zoom. Time warp.

~~~

I hear Mama's voice, calling out that it's bath time. My sister and I wordlessly form fists, bump three times and throw. I keep my fist clenched; she throws scissors. She pulls a sour face and heads to the bathroom. Then she pauses and says, "Hey, Dane. Keep me comp?"

Comp. Company. Jesus.

How many nights did I sit on a hard white seat, in hair-curling humidity, fiddling with the toilet paper roll and listening to my sister gossip?

"Lisa Blevins stole a Lip Smacker from the Tenneco yesterday." "Everyone thinks Frank Landen is such hot stuff, but he's got gross fingernails." "There's this big window along the side of the lunchroom, and you need to suck in your stomach when you walk by it, because for some reason it makes people look, like, 10 pounds heavier."

How many years did I spend in that cramped, steamy bathroom?

How many times did I follow her upstairs, a willing puppy, secretly thrilled that she wanted my company?

How could I forget?

But I did. I did forget.

With one errant word, I'm flung back in time. I remember. I remember being wanted by the one person who rarely wanted me. In that bathroom, I feel special.

~~~

Pajama-clad, curls clinging to her cheeks, Miss M. returns to the kitchen table. She picks up a fresh sheet of pink construction paper and begins again.

"Still at it?" I say, parceling Cheez-It's into snack-sized bags. "Who is this one for?"

"It's for D.," she says.

"But... didn't you make hers Friday?" I ask. It's a silly question; I know full well that she did. She also made one for her Saturday.

Miss M. leans into her drawing, furrowed in concentration. "Yeah, I did. But it's okay, Mommy," she says. "I just always start with D."

And just like that, I'm gone.