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A Magnanimous Big Sister

Cora has done a fantastic job adjusting to kindergarten, but the plain truth is that it’s just darn hard. Seven hours a day can wear an adult down, but throw a five-year-old in that situation and make her navigate new friendships and scary bigger kids at the same time, and it’s a miracle all kindergarteners aren’t in therapy.

So most days I can tell how Cora’s doing just by how she hangs out with me as we wait for second grade to be dismissed from school: she’ll often run and fling herself at me, and then happily let me sweep her up in my arms and snuggle, and if she clings extra hard, burrows extra deep, or begins burying her face in my hair then I know it’s been a darn hard day.

Yesterday was such a day, and we only avoided an entire afternoon of tears because of Maddie’s generous sacrifice.

I’ll explain.

Cora was burrowed deep in my hair when I whispered in her ear, “So, was today a good day or a hard day?” and she replied, “I’m not sure yet.” I squeezed her tighter but then had to put her down as Maddie came out of the building. As soon as Cora hit the ground she began twirling her hair with her fingers, a sure sign she’s upset or worried. Uh-oh.

As we walked to unlock the girls’ scooters, Maddie said happily, “Guess what! We did a bunch of science experiments today, and my favorite was when we got to put a Hershey kiss in our mouths and time how long it took to melt!”

Cora’s brow darkened. Double uh-oh.

As Maddie skipped ahead to her scooter, Cora pulled me aside. “Mommy, can I have a piece of candy when I get home since Maddie had a Hershey kiss?” I looked at the girl, a hard day etched in her face, and smiled, “Yes, baby, you may have a piece of your Halloween candy.”

Cora beamed and began to skip, but then stopped. “And Mommy, since Maddie already had a piece of candy today, she won’t get one now, will she? It’s only fair.”

I thought hard. “Well, baby, I will let Maddie have a piece of candy now; sometimes you or your sister get extra treats during school, and that’s just how it is. Remember how you got a piece of candy every Wednesday in preschool?”

She did, and apparently it did not matter.

For the rest of the trip home Cora was miserable. At first she tried to argue with me, to win her case and make sure Maddie didn’t have a piece of candy. When it became clear I was not changing my mind she went ahead by herself, trying to deal with her emotions. At one corner she threw herself down on the grass, sobbing, until we caught up with her. Then she got back up, got on her scooter, and kept going. Poor kiddo.

By the time we walked in the house she was sobbing those big hiccupping sobs, clearly not putting anything on for show, thoroughly miserable. I grabbed a picnic blanket and Cora’s lovey, walked Cora to the back door and said, “Come on, baby, let’s go outside.”

“Why?” she wailed, but followed obediently.

Once outside I flung the blanket down on the grass, grabbed my girl, and snuggled up on the ground for a good gorgeous-day snuggle. We lay on the blanket, Cora once again burrowed in deep, breathing in and out as she calmed down. We stayed outside, silent and content, for a good five minutes before Maddie found us.

“There you guys are!” she said cheerfully. “I was wondering where you’d gone.” And she ambled over and joined us on the blanket, two puppies piled around me in a happy heap.

For a moment we were all silent but for the last remnants of Cora’s shudders. And then Maddie spoke up and said, “Cora, I’ve been thinking. You’ve had a hard day, it seems, and I just want you to know that if it’ll help you feel better I won’t have a piece of candy now. Will that help?”

Mutely Cora nodded. Maddie smiled at her, got up, and ambled off to play in a leaf pile.

That, my friends, is my beautiful seven-year-old.


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