The Littlest Witch

by Jennifer on November 1, 2016


The long line of shadowy figures puttered down the street, intermittent glares from the parent-held flashlights contrasting with the glow from the neon bracelets the children sported in order to be more easily identified in the dark.

The little witch carried her black cat treat bag with purpose, her gait reflecting the independent determination so characteristic of my little two year old. The gold glitter amid the black tulle of her skirt danced in the reflected light against the darkness of her pig-tailed silhouette.

At one point her pace slowed as she held the hand of her classmate, dressed as Elsa, their tiny fingers entertained in a joint effort to hold the traditional plastic pumpkin that swung between them.

House after house the little witch followed the pack of bouncing children up the front walkway, where she expectantly held out her treat bag, accepted the candy that was offered (usually with a smile at her tiny stature), trekked back down the walkway and on towards the next house. This ritual repeated itself for a surprisingly long amount of time, without an expression of uncertainly or doubt on her part until a fire truck drove by honking its horn and blaring the theme from Halloween, full of scarily-masked firemen. At that point, she became my baby again.


I remember the Halloween when S was this age, dressed as a puppy dog, his older brother as Spiderman. I wrote about that night four years ago, because I wanted to etch all of the tiny details of this age into my memory. That puppy dog is now a pteranodon fossil and nearly the age that Spiderman was then. Spiderman is now a grim reaper, almost unrecognizable as the boy who threw a fit over Favorite Slushy.

The little witch spent the rest of the night huddled at the coffee table, going through her stash piece by piece. Each piece was to be unwrapped, licked once, and discarded in the trash with the declaration of “I don like dat.”

She summarily dismissed each piece of her hard-earned loot. As with most things for the little witch, it was all about the process and never the result.


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Breaking Up is Hard To Do

by Jennifer on April 4, 2016

Friday morning radio chatter filled the car as we turned the corner toward my fourth grader’s elementary school. Noticing a gaggle of mothers accompanying their children into the building, I was grateful to be able to hide my bare-skinned face behind my sunglasses and my pajama-clad body safely inside the car.

“Hey K, what are all these people doing here?”

There was a slight pause as he looked up from the book he was reading and noticed the unusual crowd. “Oh…it’s Muffins with Mom today.” His voice trailed off as he returned to his book.

“It’s Muffins with Mom today? You know I’m your mom, right? Were you going to tell me about it?”

I felt a little squeeze in my chest as I braked to let a woman and her young son cross in front of me. He was holding her hand and I could see him lift his head to her and smile.

“I forgot. I thought it was next week.” I searched for the sound of disappointment in his voice but found none.

I think I had enough disappointment for both of us…for the entire car, really. I had so much, in fact, that it came out of my eyes and spilled down my cheeks, leaving trails that even my oversized sunglasses could not hide.

I calculated in my head the number of times I had been to Muffins with Mom. I went through each year in my mind, beginning with Kindergarten, when his excitement matched mine. It was the one day out of the year when I got to come to his school and sit in his classroom with him, meet his friends, look around and get a glimpse of what his time apart from me looked like each day. The preparation the kids undertook for this day, usually involving a picture or a poem or just a moment where they would say what it is that they love about their mom was something I treasured. It was always a moment that reminded me how thankful I was that I gave up a career and could come to school on that day without having to worry about the job I was going to be late for or the client who would be filling my voicemail and email.

It was just one day out of the year. It was just thirty minutes, but it was important to me.

Being a mom is not a job one undertakes for the benefits. Gratitude is not expected, certainly, and in fact is a word that makes me chuckle when used at all within the context of parenting.

But there are those moments…the hugs and snuggles on the couch during morning cartoons, the spontaneous “I love you,” the feeling of a little hand reaching for yours completely of its own free will, that remind you why you do it all in the first place.

Because of the love.

But they start to grow up, and before you realize it, you are sitting in the car in your pajamas with your three kids, one of whom is a fourth grader whose life is moving on, with a strange watery liquid on your face and a broken heart.

Because you know it is ending.

“I’m sorry I forgot,” he mumbled as he collected his backpack and violin and climbed over his brother to get out of the car.

“It’s okay, Sweetie. Have a good day and I love you.”

“Love you too.”

And I watched him walk into the building among the crowd of children and their mothers, a string of my memories trailing behind him.

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Refugees, Love and My Four Year Old

by Jennifer on November 1, 2015


“Empathy is the most mysterious transaction that the human soul can have, and it’s accessible to all of us, but we have to give ourselves the opportunity to identify, to plunge ourselves in a story where we see the world from the bottom up or through another’s eyes or heart.”  – Sue Monk Kidd


“Why are we going to Target?”  inquiring little eyes peered at me in the rearview mirror.

“We need to get some supplies.  We are making bags for refugees,” I answered.

“What’s a refugee?”

It was one of those moments when I wished I had taken the time to go through this conversation in my mind before it actually took place.  Choosing what you’re going to say, how you’re going to describe important details so that a four year old can understand them, and keeping the discussion on a level that will not cause nightmares are things a good Mommy would have done ahead of time.  Unfortunately, this Mommy is also a very busy Mommy and that level of planning just did not happen.

When my friend, Lara, posted online that she was collecting hygiene bags for Syrian refugees through her office, my first thought was that this was such an easy way to help people who really need it.  The effort required of picking up a few extra things at Target and popping them into Ziploc bags is negligible, but would show those who had been through so much that they are in the prayers of people all over the world.

As Little Boy S was not in school that day, I knew I would need to find a way to explain to him what we were doing and why we were shopping for these particular items, but I just had not really come up with the words at that point.  I took a deep breath.

“There is a place called Syria.  It is far away on the other side of the world.  There is a lot of war going on there and some people are doing some really awful things to the people who live there.  The people just want to be safe and to keep their families safe, so they are leaving their homes.  Someone who has to leave their home country because it is too dangerous for them is called a refugee.  They have to leave all of their things behind, their clothes and toys, and travel long distances to safety.  Because they don’t have their stuff anymore, they need things like soap and washcloths and hair combs and band-aids so that they can feel clean after all that travelling.  Mommy’s friend is collecting bags of these things to send to them.”

I could tell S was thinking; he’s the kind of child whose silence and stillness betray his inner monologue.

“How will the bags get there?” he asked after a few seconds had passed.  “Mommy’s friend will collect all the bags and put them in a big box and send them through the mail,” I answered.

While in Target, S helped choose each item for the bags.  He chose the combs and the yellow washcloths by their color.  He smelled the different bars of soap to choose which one smelled the best (Irish Spring).  He wanted to pick the band-aids because he said kids would like some band-aids more than others.  When we passed a display of stuffed animals, S asked if we could put teddy bears in the bags.

“It will make them feel happy,” he said.  I explained that we would have to do some research to find an organization that was sending teddy bears to the refugees.

Our typical Target trips involve S’s repeated requests to go look at the Skylanders and check out the Lego displays, but on this visit, he was all business and mentioned neither of these distractions.

When we got home, he carefully counted out band-aids, toothbrushes, nail clippers and other supplies and placed each of the items in the bags.  I was amazed by his continued focus on our task.  In the mind of a four year old, most projects have a very limited lifespan.

We finished the hygiene kits and dropped them off at Lara’s home the next day.  Lara posted a photo on Facebook showing the numerous boxes filled with the hygiene kits donated by her friends and co-workers.  When I shared the photo with S, his eyes got as wide as his smile, “Wow, that’s a lot!”

I expected Little Boy S to be a companion in this project, at best a helper,  and to maybe gain a little perspective (as much as is possible at this age) in the process.  My heart swelled at the care he took in selecting the items for the bags and his continued interest in the people for whom they were made.  He didn’t need to see the horrible photos of the children’s bodies washed up on the beaches before he felt moved to act the way so many of the rest of us did.  A simplified story, told in the most basic terms was enough to ignite the empathy of a child.

Several weeks passed and I assumed S had moved on, the hygiene kits fading into his memory the way most things in life do at his age.  Frankly, there are times when I ask Little Boy S about something we did two days ago and I’m met with a blank stare.

I found S playing with his stuffed creeper on the couch, “This is Skeletron,” he announced.

“Oh, Skeletron!  I thought his name was Stampy, “ I replied.

“No, this is someone else.  This is Skeletron.  He’s from Syria.  There’s war there and he’s not safe, so his Mommy put him in a big box and mailed him to me to keep him safe.  I’m going to take care of him now.”  He hugged his creeper to his chest and squeezed him, looking down at him with a smile.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor at the fact that he not only remembered the refugees and understood the feeling of a mother wanting to keep her children safe, but even remembered the name of the country from which the refugees came, I gave him a giant hug.

And the best part of it all?  He accepted the responsibility of caring for this imaginary little person without question.

It may be an expression of love on the most basic level, but it gives me hope.

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by Jennifer on October 28, 2015


He was greeted by an excited chorus of voices.  I could only see the side of his face from my position outside the door of his preschool classroom, but I could see his broad smile and his quick little intake of breath that signaled excitement.

“I brought my creeper.  I named him Skeletron,” he announced, holding out the green stuffed animal with pride.

The weight that had been sitting in my chest for months, the one that had been there since I watched his last classroom tackle him in a farewell hug riddled with giggles and love just before our move, lifted just a little.

My heart felt lighter.  He is happy to be here.  He is excited.

Smiling, I turned back to the stroller where Baby E was waiting patiently for us to say our farewells.  I put my hands on the handlebar and began the long walk home.  After pushing for a few steps, I realized how easy it is to push now, how little effort it took to move through the sidewalks and over the curbs with one seat empty.

The stroller was lighter, but our walk home was so much quieter, the soft chatter of the birds having replaced our earlier conversation about which dinosaur ran the fastest.  I missed him already.

Last night, I picked that sleeping four year old up out of bed to carry him into E’s room to sleep with us.  I realized I was struggling as I lifted his weighty, limp frame and almost had to put him back into bed to get a better grip.

Was I getting feeble?  As part of my brain began berating my fitness level and recalibrating my workout plans for the week, another part reminded me that S weighed only forty pounds at his most recent doctor’s visit.  A year ago, when I carried him everywhere, he weighed 36 and I’d just had a baby.  How could four pounds make such a profound difference?

And then I felt his feet bumping the tops of my knees and his head dangling over the ridge of my shoulder as I lumbered down the hall.  It was not his weight, but his size that made the walk so difficult.

He was long and lean now, and there was very little left of the curves and plump baby roundness to grip as I carried him.

Maybe that is God’s way of keeping us from carrying our babies forever; He stretches them out and makes them difficult to hold.

I leaned my head into his neck, hoisted him into a better position and tightened my arm around the soft skin of his back, warm with sleep.

Too bad, I’m not giving up yet.

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by Jennifer on September 18, 2015

We sat on the floor of the playroom surrounded by toys and books and the detritus of a childhood thoroughly “played”.  Having ransacked the castle, skipped across the parapets and turned somersaults through the air with magnificent skill, the Ninja Turtle came to rest on a 4 year old’s legs.

S took a deep breath, “Leonardo is peaceful now.”

“He’s peaceful?”

“Yes.  Do you know what peaceful means?”

“What does peaceful mean, S?”

“Peaceful means quiet and calm. Leonardo feels quiet and calm.”

“When do you feel peaceful, Sawyer?”

Little sandy eyes met mine and I felt his baby-soft skin as he climbed into my lap and curled up, his body still small enough (barely) to be enveloped, “When I sit in your lap.  I feel peaceful when I sit in your lap.”

I squeezed him tight, making a mental note to hold onto this moment, as in a few blinks he would be too big to occupy this space.

“Mommy?  When do you feel peaceful?”

“Right now; same as you.  I feel peaceful when you sit in my lap.  And I feel peaceful when I put you to bed at night and snuggle with you and know that you are safe at home in my nest and sleeping.”

But that was only half of the truth.

There are a few moments when I feel peaceful as I put the children to sleep at night.  As I snuggle up next to S and tuck his tiny little noggin underneath my chin and feel the tickle of his hair as it blows in the breeze of the fan, I feel him sigh and I sigh too and I do feel peaceful.

But then my mind wanders.

I start thinking about the day and everything I could have done better, could have handled better.  I think about yesterday and tomorrow and what needs to happen and how I can do my best to make it a good day.  I think about the choices and mistakes I’ve made on their behalf.

Then come the thoughts of dangers, of sickness, disease, friends I know who have lost their children, careless drivers and plummeting airplanes.

I think about their education and society and the world we live in and all of the darkness I want to protect them from.

I think about politicians, and terrorists and ISIS and the rest of the hole that is the Middle East.

I think about the environment and pollution and contamination and the chemicals in their food.

I think about those that would dehumanize them and objectify them and classify them.

I think about the inevitable people in their lives who would wish them harm, who would hurt them and treat them poorly and poke sad little holes in their hearts that I work so hard to preserve.

And “peaceful” is gone, replaced by “control”, “guard”, and “protect”.

And I wonder how it is possible for S to feel peaceful in my lap.

He is not worried about earlier, or yesterday or tomorrow.  He has faith that I will protect him, that my lap is a safe place.

The fact that he feels peaceful, now, is reason enough for me to feel peaceful too.

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Bathtubs, Bubbles and Belief

by Jennifer on July 8, 2015

The smell of baby soap mingled with the sounds of bath water lapping against the sides of the tub, Baby E’s feet rhythmically slapping the water’s surface and the squeaking of Little Boy S’s skin as he wiggled around in his water-bound confinement.

I watched their faces, so very alike, hers a reminder of what his looked like just a few short years ago.

I tackled Little Boy S’s hair first, pouring water over his head from the Eskimo Joe’s cup my friend Sarah brought us from Oklahoma, then soap, and more water.  Baby E looked on, fingers firmly planted in her mouth, her feet periodically beating against the side of the bath seat.

When the squirming and dripping and a cursory drying were complete, S turned to look at Baby E and there was a noticeable shift in his mood as he settled and became much more calm.  Picking up the tiny, waterlogged, heart-print washcloth, he began to squeeze out the excess water.

“I need to wash Baby Elizabeth.”

I smiled and nodded that it was okay.

I watched while that four-year-old boy, having just finished massacring zombies in his play room before throwing down his knight armor and proudly declaring, “I’m a mad man!”, calmly and lovingly washed his baby sister’s belly, arm (just one) and leg (again, just one).

I never cease to be amazed by the sibling relationship.  It is something I never really expected while pregnant with S and something I worried about continuously while pregnant with E.  I worried that the boys would resent the addition of a new baby, with all the requisite noise and inconveniences and parental attention that would now be divided by three.

I worried S would begrudge her the need she would have of me and her constant presence in his Mommy’s arms, a space that was firmly his own territory from birth.

“We need soap for her belly button. I need to clean her belly button.”

I poured the soap into his hand and he gently rubbed in on her belly before taking the washcloth and scrubbing it into her belly button.

E looked up at his face, her giggles bubbling throughout the bathroom.

Sometimes our children surprise us in the most wonderful ways.  What we think, or rather expect…what we believe will be true…It is a prideful mistake to believe our expectations about the behavior of another human being bear merit beyond the confines of our our own imagination.

“Mommy, I love Elizabeth.”

“I know you do, baby.”


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Object Permanence

by Jennifer on February 1, 2015

“Peek-a-boo! Where’d Mommy go?” I covered my face with the towel I was folding in the giant stack of laundry in my lap. Lowering the towel, I pinched my face into an expression of shock.

“There she is!”

Baby E’s eyes squished up as her face broke into a smile. I pulled the towel back over my face and repeated the question. Peeking around the corner so I could see her face, I saw her smile drop and her eyes dart from left to right, searching. To Baby E, Mommy was really gone.

Dropping the towel, I was again met with her glowing smile.

“There she is!”

As we prepare to move again, I’ve been thinking about the way people move in and out of our lives. They are here for a while and then they move on. Life continues and the hole that is left where they would have been had they stayed, is gradually filled in until it seems as though they were never there at all.

When we moved out here a year and a half ago, I was heartbroken by the hole we would leave. My imaginations and aspirations for the lives my kids would have, the way they would grow with their friends, their school, their world, faded away in the mist. My kids were going to be erased from that world; we were going to disappear. We would continue, but in a different place, not the one for which I had planned. Thinking of that world, moving on, without my kids as a part of it was something I’m still trying to get over.

I spent a lot of the last year and a half imagining what would be if we had not left, wondering how K and Little Boy S would be different, if at all, wondering what it would have been like to have the support of our old neighborhood during the health crisis I experienced shortly after we left, wondering what it would be like for Baby E to have been born into “a village” where strong relationships were already established.

Now that we are preparing to reverse the move we made a year and a half ago, I have been thinking again about the hole we will leave in our current life. That hole doesn’t matter to anyone but us, of course. As before, the quicksand will pour in, more quickly this time I’m sure, and fill up the space we would have occupied. The friends Little Boy S has made will move on without him and the picture of him and his pals knocking about as high schoolers one day will dissolve and fade away, as they did the last time. Life out here will continue to exist, just as it did before we came.

And we will still exist, just in a different place, with a different life.

I have this recurring scenario in my mind of the different lives my children and our family could have, spread out on the table before me like a deck of cards and I’m desperately trying to match the cards together to create the best possible combination for each of them. I start grouping the cards, making different combinations, this school, that atmosphere, this friend group, that level of cultural exposure, trying to find the perfect fit. I calculate the positives and subtract the negatives with each combination and become more and more frantic as I keep reshuffling my work, because meanwhile, time is passing and I had better hurry and get it right before it’s too late, before they’ve grown and I’ve made the wrong choices for them.

And I worry that I’ve already taken too much time to make these choices.

So we are moving one last time. Imaginary futures will be packed away into a cardboard box, sealed with a roll of packing tape and tossed into the attic where they will eventually break apart and disappear.

And we will still exist, just in a different place, with a different life.

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Let It Go

by Jennifer on January 4, 2015

“What book should we read?” I asked as he hopped up into his bed, taking the last step on his step-stool at a flying leap and landing in a messy pile of pillows and twisted blankets.

“This one!” Little Boy S said, handing me a board book, well-worn on the edges and with a page escaping its binding. I smiled thinking of the many nights I’ve spent reading this story to S, almost from day one.

We climbed under the Elf sheets, soon to be tucked away in the closet for next year and he flipped his blonde hair into the crook of my shoulder as I raised the book and began to read.

The chosen book was “I Love You As Much” and I went through the familiar pace and inflections of the words from memory as I turned the pages, the comfort of What Has Always Been wrapping itself around us, the comfort of that which never changes.

We drifted through each animal mother explaining her limitless love for her child in terms most relevant to its experience, the whale loves her baby as much as the ocean is deep, the mouse as much as the grain in the mill, until we reached the final page, the mother and baby page.

“Now sleep child of mine, as the stars shine above; I love you as much as a mother can love,” I read. The picture is of a mother tenderly leaning over her baby, asleep at her side, and this is always the point at which S points at the figures and proudly says, “That’s us, Mommy. There’s Mommy and Baby S.”

But this time, S’s tiny finger points to the baby and his words are different, “That’s Baby E. It’s you and Baby E.” I ran the phrase over in my mind again, listening for any sign of jealousy or bitterness or resentment and could find only affection.

I felt a squeezing in my heart, “We used to say that was Mommy and you.” I kept my voice light, but recognized a familiar tightening in my chest, that pull to hold onto What We Were, still not ready to let it go.

“No, it’s Mommy and Baby E,” he said with finality. I felt a release as he cut that string. One more string among those that were slowly being broken as we transitioned from What We Were to What We Are. A transition that had me dragging my heels in my own little epic fight against Change and The Passage of Time.

Taking a deep breath to steady my voice, I asked, “Do you think Baby E would like this book? Should I read it to her?”

His gray eyes met mine and he put one soft hand on each side of my face, “Yes,” he said, wrapping me in a hug and holding me there.

“But later.”


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Tomorrow Is Not Christmas

by Jennifer on December 24, 2014

pexels-photo-190931“The penny frame sale doesn’t start until the day after Christmas,” said the fluorescent pink painted lips of the store employee as she unceremoniously shoved my purchases into a plastic bag.

“Oh. Okay, I thought I saw a sign over there…”

“No, those should all be covered up,” Painted Lips said, shaking her head from left to right and leaving streaks of bright pink trailers across my field of vision.

I took my bag and headed for the exit, not having the will to whip out the skills I received during my outstanding legal education, my overstuffed purse smacking the uncovered “SALE” sign on the way out the door.

You know, the “SALE” sign that reads in fine print “buy any photo frame and receive the second photo frame of equal or lesser value for 1 cent.”

And then it occurred to me.

Tomorrow is not Christmas anyway. I could come back for the penny sale on the 26th and still have the frames wrapped and under the tree in time for Christmas.

Tomorrow is not Christmas.

I flipped open my computer and typed in the name of our church, the keys clicking away in the silence of our home at nap time. Scrolling through the menu for “worship”, my eyes scanned the times of the various Christmas Eve services.  My eyes travelled the page until I stopped at the one listed as “Family Service”.  I clicked my laptop closed.

Today may be Christmas Eve, but tomorrow is not Christmas.

I pushed the stroller off the sidewalk and into the wood chips of the playground and released Little Boy S into the wind. He ran to the slide to greet the other child with a squeal that carried clear across the lake.

Yoga Pants turned to face me with a knowing smile, “Is he excited for Christmas tomorrow?”

Tomorrow is not Christmas.

“We celebrate Christmas on the 27th. My oldest son is in Dallas with his father this year so we put Christmas on hold until he comes back.” I waited for The Look and The SemiSmile of those whose lives are not parceled out weekend by weekend and Yoga Pants did not disappoint.

“That must be tough with him,” she said, tilting her head toward Little Boy S.

“Nah, he is still three so Christmas is whenever we choose to celebrate it, for now.”

Tomorrow is not Christmas.

I sat on the couch, Baby E asleep on my lap, and looked at the three long stockings hanging from stars on our fireplace. I heard my husband on the baby monitor, reading The Grinch to Little Boy S.

“I must stop this Christmas from coming. But how?”

Yes, how?

How to build a dam for the tidal wave of magic that Christmas Day brings so that it does not swallow my family when one of its members is missing…

How to kiss my two little sugarplums good night tonight without opening the door of the third…

How to watch Rudolph with them and not acknowledge the lack of requests for hot cocoa and the missing personality that can swallow a room when it is truly excited…

How to stay sitting on the couch and distract myself when I know I should be setting out the presents, just so, so that when they come running down the hall in the morning everything looks magical…

Tomorrow is not Christmas.

Except that I know that it is.

“He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming. It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same,” rang through the baby monitor.

No, tomorrow is not Christmas.


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My Cup Runneth Over

by Jennifer on November 27, 2014

I noticed it had gotten quiet; she was no longer crying.

I looked down to see her staring up at me, straight into my eyes, her head a mere eight inches or so from mine. It was that intensely personal stare unique to young babies that eventually fades away as they learn that prolonged, direct eye contact is uncomfortable to most people of a certain age.

I wondered what she was thinking, what she made of everything she saw with fresh eyes and lacking the frames through which we all eventually interpret our surroundings.

We looked at each other until I tried to break the intensity of the moment by blinking quickly and cracking a smile at her, but she did not take the bait and held steady.

In this moment, I am reminded that she is more than the crying, the nursing, the diaper changes and irregular sleep patterns. This is a person, my daughter, my sweet baby girl.

She did not care about anything else that was going on, my “famous” chocolate pies that sat in lumpy ruins in the fridge for Thanksgiving or the toys strewn about on my floor that I kept tripping over or the extra thirty pounds of baby weight I still carried. She just wanted to connect with me, her Mama, in this moment.

This was my daughter, my sweet baby girl.

How lucky I am…

My eyes filled as I realized how completely undeserving I am of that love. How can any of us ever be worthy of something so pure? I quickly blinked away the tears, not wanting her to see her to see her Mama looking at her and crying and take them for something other than the overwhelming sense of fullness they represented.

I stroked her head, front to back, in the way that relaxes her, feeling the soft threads of sparse baby hair. He eyes grew heavy, the lids drooping but they never left mine.

As her eyes closed, mine filled up again and this time I didn’t bother to hide the tears as she was asleep and there was no chance she would misinterpret them as sadness rather than what they were, evidence that my undeserving heart was so warm and full that the excess had to overflow and spill out somewhere.

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