I watch as their little bodies rush to the house, each stamped with the marks of summer. Grass stained knees, mud smeared like war paint, mismatched tan lines, hair bleached blonde, and road rash in various stages of healing.
The noise carries from the back door and I hear them scramble to remove footwear and take their turns at the sink. I visualize the grime of the day literally sliding off them onto the bathroom sink and floor. The stampede finally makes its way to the kitchen table as everyone finds their seat and anxiously looks to see what is for supper.
The shiny hands are folded, and freshly scrubbed faces bowed. Grace is said and mouths then filled. And finally, after spending the entire day trying to keep up with her brothers, it is her turn to lead. Between bites she entertains the table with a tale of today’s exploits. Everyone is raptly attentive because she is a gifted storyteller and because she is greatly adored by her audience. Her eyes glow bright and her facial expressions punctuate each part of the day’s exciting adventures.
Her brothers have to correct her a few times. Though as it is done with such gentleness it is received likewise. The story is slightly embellished; filled with laughter and second helpings. Even in that she must do her best to emulate her big brothers. Were she not the epitome of exquisite feminine charm it would be easy to lump her in with the boys.
Once mealtime is over the table is cleared and the boys take to their neglected chores. She stays to help me load the dishwasher, fill the soap tab, and press the start button. This is one of her favourite jobs. Then she runs off to find her boys. She may be their muse, but they are her idols.
Though it is still quite light out it is getting late and it is time for a bath. She is reluctant to leave her brothers who are on the floor building Lego, a rare treat for her to be included in, but building spaceships and battle stations will have to wait for another day. She attacks the bubbles and water with the same exuberance as the sandbox. Turning the bathtub into a shop of magic potions and elixirs. As I pour the ‘invisible’ mixture over her head to rinse out the shampoo her nose crinkles and she smiles from ear to ear.
Soon she is snuggled in her pink terrycloth towel. With her face, framed by wet hair in ringlets, peeking out the top and ten pink toes wiggling out the bottom. She smells of soap, lavender body lotion and a scent that is all her own. She picks out her bumblebee pyjamas and recounts all the ones she spotted in the yard that day as I brush her hair.
She grabs her blanket and bunny off her bed and runs to jump on my lap. We read a few stories and then I hold her closer as I sing to her. Her eyelids are heavy and her thumb is in her mouth, but when the songs end she says, “Sing Dilly, dilly please Mom?” And I can’t deny her one more song so we sing it together as her head rests over my heart.
When I tuck her in and kiss her goodnight, she giggles as my breath tickles her neck. I kiss her again and again just to hear that sound. Finally there is one last embrace.
Standing at the doorway I gaze at her frame as it slowly succumbs to sleep.
“I love you Madeline.” I quietly tell her.
“I love you too Mommy.” She whispers back.
“Have a good sleep.” I say not out of habit, but to prolong the goodbye.
“Hmmm…” is her reply.
“Tomorrow you will be three.” I offer.
But there is only silence.
She is already gone.