Cleveland was frighteningly frigid in February, cramming vehicles on the slick highway like a herd of deer on ice. Daddy has the heat on blast, grunting and cussing under his breath at the slowness of traffic. Cold weather has never agreed with him. June’s eyes darted back and forth, following the windshield wipers as they went up and down, up and down. Tracing her tiny finger across the backseat window, she draws little stars and hearts into the frost.
“Mommy!” she exclaims. “Yes, Junie,” Daddy says, “We get to see Mommy very soon.” For reasons June could not understand, Mommy wasn’t around very much. She knew there was a baby on the way; in fact, she was the one who told Mommy she was pregnant in the first place. What was difficult for the three-year-old to process was why Mommy was in bed from the early morning to late at night. She was told that the baby was sick and that Mommy had to lie down all the time so that the baby would get better. Still, this was no easy pill for June to swallow, as Mommy could not watch Dora the Explorer with her, sing songs, or make her Mac N’ Cheese whenever her little heart desired. Days without Mommy were hard, especially when it was finally time for the baby to enter the world.
Excitement brewed in the toddler’s belly as the car approached a parking lot. Spelling the word out in her mind, h-o-s-p-i-t-a-l, she giggles. June liked acknowledging that she knew big words. From the time she was born, she read and surprised Mommy and Daddy daily with the new words she planted in what would eventually become a jungle of vast vocabulary. Finally, Daddy turns the key, and the ignition sputters to a stop. Running around the back to release June from her car seat, he takes her tiny fist in his palm, and the two walk briskly into the elevator.
June never liked the smell of hospitals. The way the antiseptic would sting her nostrils and the cocktail of sweat, rubber, and the cheap perfume the nurses wear is enough to make anyone gag. The stench brings back memories of MRIs and blood tests, being poked and prodded by young doctors, and the sickeningly fake speeches of encouragement from assistants saying, “Everything is going to be okay, sweetheart.” Despite her discomfort, the anticipation of finally seeing Mommy overpowered it all. Her mind floods with images of the two embracing for the first time and Mommy telling June how much she missed her. The door to the room swings open, and Daddy rushes to Mommy’s side and gives her a wet kiss on her forehead.
“How’re you feeling, babe?” He asks, putting his hand on top of hers. Standing in the doorway like a ghost, June observes the situation at hand. Mommy, with her skin pale from blood loss and blonde, curly hair stuck to her forehead, would not run to her toddler and hug her as June had planned moments before. Mommy looks up at Daddy, “I feel like someone was just reaching down into my guts and juggling them around. But other than that, I’ve never been better.” They roll their eyes at one another, and then Daddy picks up a bundle from her arms. Before she could think about crying due to the lack of attention directed toward her or running out of the room angrily, Mommy whispers, “Come here, baby girl.”
Waddling over to the bed, June is hoisted up next to Mommy, where she is connected to what seems like hundreds of small tubes. Before she can collapse against her mother’s chest, Mommy shouts, “No!” very loudly. Feeling defeated, June crosses her arms. “Junie, Mommy has a boo-boo on her belly, and it will hurt if you jump on me,” she explains. Instead, the child purses her lips and kisses Mommy on the cheek, wiggling beside her on the mattress. “So,” Daddy says, “Do you want to meet your little sister?” June’s heart drops.
A sister? She thinks. For the first three years of her life, she had received all the attention, the grandparent visits, and Christmas and birthday gifts. Suddenly, her life would be overturned by the mysterious bundle in Daddy’s arms; she would not be the only one getting attention, the visits, or the gifts. Eventually, her old clothes would be passed down to her little sister, and she would have to share things. Her Barbie dolls. Her Polly Pockets. Her dollhouse. Anything that belonged to just her was no longer confined to her little fingers. And Mommy. She would have to share Mommy too. If there was one thing June struggled with, it was sharing the things she loved most, and sharing Mommy with the baby was the most challenging task of all.
Lowering the bundle into Mommy and June’s lap, Daddy’s beaming grin overpowers the bright fluorescent lights in the room. “Look at all my girls,” he says with pride. Looking into her lap, June is taken aback by the baby swaddled in the blanket. She’s smaller than everyone thought she would be; everything on her is small. Her head fit between June’s hands, and the baby’s hands and feet were even smaller. “She looks like a doll,” June says under her breath. “She reminds you of Dina, doesn’t she?” Mommy says, adjusting the baby. Dina was June’s most prized possession, a Cabbage Patch doll with brown hair and blue eyes. Dina was irreplaceable and went everywhere the little girl breathed. Nothing would repair the catastrophe that would follow if the doll ever went missing. Little Sister’s eyelids begin to open, revealing tiny, dark eyelashes and storm-blue eyes. Her button nose scrunches, and she purses her lips into a small rosebud, smacking them together. The chestnut hair sprouting from the infant’s head smells of lavender and feels as delicate as a spider's web against June’s cheek.
“This is my baby,” June states with confidence. Mommy and Daddy giggle, drinking in the sight of their two little girls together. “Yes, Junie, she is yours,” Mommy says, “She is yours to love, to care for, and to protect. You will make such a good big sister.” The baby wiggles in June’s arms, cooing and blowing bubbles. A sudden warmth fills her heart, which she had never felt until now. Any distaste for little sister evaporated into the air, and the toddler’s heart grew warmer and fuller with every babble and slight movement from the baby’s teeny hands and feet. Tickling Little Sister’s toes with pure delight, June asks, “Daddy, what do I call her?”
“Rose. That’s her name,” Daddy exclaims, staring at the little one in awe.
Eventually, Daddy and June had to return home without Mommy and Rose. After giving them both kisses goodbye, the two hold hands and walk down the hospital corridor once more.
The two little girls continued growing, chasing one another around the kitchen and living room, having sleepovers together at grandparents’ houses, playing dress up, and having Disney princess karaoke parties in the afternoons. June and Rose were like two peas in a pod, depending on one another, sometimes more so than they did on their parents. During the evenings, they would spend their time pushing each other down the carpeted stairs in beanbags, making silly noises as they tumbled and rolled onto the floor. While their relationship was not without arguments, the two were inseparable and loved each other to pieces. Even as they were getting older, when their differences seemed the most prominent, and they were not careless little girls anymore, they would still find moments to giggle and play, sneak around, and stay up late without Mom and Dad knowing. To others, they were teenage girls, but when they look at each other, they are still two little girls chasing each other around the house.
While June and Rose will continue to grow, change, fight, cry, persevere, and more, the love they have only flourishes. Here’s to the kind of love that only the two can understand. Here’s to the kind of bond that no man can break. Here’s to the connection that does not disappear with distance but stretches far and wide. Here’s to you, Little Sister.