It occurred to me while folding clothes from the dryer that I liked having a separate pile. That my sweaters and dress pants, t-shirts and pajamas were a stack of soft layers to the left while my family's clothes formed a haphazard pile on the right. I smiled at tiny socks and adorable shirts but had no desire to mix them with my belongings. And after I gave hugs and kisses and waved good-bye, I put toys and games in my ottoman that serves as storage and returned to my life.
I love them - so, so much - but there are moments where I have this certainty that an ever-present family is not what I want. The arguments and exhaustion. The complaints and needs, fetching/carrying/wiping/entertaining. Goodness. Which explained why I was taking a break in the quiet basement to fold laundry.
Still, I returned with a laptop and played the Glee Cast version of Teenage Dream for my nieces. Because I like it better than the original.
"I like," Smallest One said, never one to shy away from an opinion, "the Stuck Like Glue song." I nodded and began to search for it online while Smallest frowned impatiently. She sighed. Then tapped my arm none too gently. "Play It," she ordered and I grinned.
"I don't have it, love," I replied. "I need to find it and buy it for you. Then," I decided, inspired, "we'll burn CDs so you can play it at home!" Her eyes rounded with delight and she began to bounce and dance when the downloaded song began to play.
"How do I turn it up?" she asked, still wiggling and "wuh oh, wuh oh"ing and I pointed to the button with a giggle. Despite reaching the maximum level, she continued to want more, jabbing at the volume button as she sang with increasing volume herself.
So they took turns picking songs they liked to transfer to blank CDs (I may have already owned some of their favored music - but I confirm nothing.) and when I suggested to Smallest that her portable movie player might provide music, she went to fetch it despite her grandfather's objection that it only played DVDs.
It did, of course, play CDs and it played them ear-numbingly loud. I got the giggles as Little plugged her ears and Smallest's shoulders lifted dramatically as she shouted along with the music. "I like this song!" she'd cry each time a new one began and I'd nod, wincing at the volume for a moment before admiring once again her utter joy at life in general. She's a character.
"Her motto," Brother pointed out when he called to check in as the music blasted in the background, "is 'If it's too loud, you're too old." And I laughed and nodded, watching his youngest spin in circles.
"She's surrounded by people who are too old then," I decided. "And likely always will be." And I spent a moment in worry for her.
"Aunt Katie," Little One said, waiting until she had my attention before handing me a bottle of Elmer's glue, "open this, please." So I frowned down at the familiar orange top, using the edge of my fingernail to chip away the dried glue before twisting it open and returning it to her. "Do you like blue or yellow?" she asked, selecting a set of wings for the toilet-paper-roll body covered in pink construction paper.
"Yellow, I think," I decided after a moment's thought, watching her face scrunch in concentration as she drew a line of glue and pressed the two pieces together, waiting for them to dry into the semblance of a butterfly.
She's a gentle soul, sensitive and dramatic as can be. She'll duck her head when someone says she's beautiful while her younger sister is more likely to say "I know!" when offered a similar compliment. And she whimpers while she sleeps, causing me to roll over and peer over pillows to tuck the blankets more securely around her pale arms or smooth her hair while quietly telling her she's OK - safe and loved and sleepy.
She's also a bossy know-it-all, ordering her sister about until Smallest turns to hit her. She has a small unkind streak, making fun of those who are different at school and looking rather crushed when corrected. She thinks before replying sometimes, calculating what we might want to hear rather than articulating what she really thinks. And I spend a moment in worry for her.
I know not how to create good global citizens. I can buy presents and dab lips with napkins. I can love them to pieces and scold when they walk in the street without looking. I can watch movies and find blankets and soothe them while they sleep. But, as always, I'll admit to a sense of bittersweet relief when taking my laundry upstairs and placing theirs in suitcases before helping to load the car.
I love what I have - two wonderful girls who love me and come visit and talk to me on the phone. And I love the amount of "mine" they are - just enough but not completely. And, for the next little while, a few hours away once again.