Missy, at year's end
Barney the purple dinosaur was cavorting across the television screen with a bunch of little kids. They were singing a song that could stay in your head for a month. Missy sat on the couch and sang along with them. Every few seconds she glanced out the window and toward the street. She looked at me, smiled a big Jack-O-Lantern grin and exclaimed, "I go school today!"
"I know, honey," I said. “What are you gonna do today?"
"I play basketball!" she shouted and laughed and turned her attention back to the dinosaur. "Stacy's my teacher," she said under her breath.
"When's the bus coming?" I asked.
"I dunno," she said, looking back at me and then out the window again. "Addie's driving."
"I know," I said. "She'll be here soon."
"I go school today!" she cried out, and smiled again. She could light up a dark cave with that smile.
Missy, by the way, is Marianne's kid sister.
I sit some days and watch the videos I made years ago when these little children used to live in my house. There were four of them and they were all girls. Marianne would dress them up in fancy dresses and people used to stop us in the mall and ask us how we managed to deal with four of them, seeing as how they were so close in age. "How old are the twins?" a stranger would ask, pointing down at their cherubic faces.
"They're one," Marianne would answer automatically, so used to the question.
"And this one?" the stranger would say, pointing at Meghan who was hanging on to the double stroller.
"Meghan's two," Marianne would say, and then, in anticipation of the next question, she'd point at the next daughter and say, "Kelly’s four."
"Boy, you sure have your hands full!" the stranger would exclaim and walk away, shaking her head. Marianne would smile at me and shrug her shoulders. We'd laugh. What can you do?
Nowadays, I sit in a quieter house and wonder where those children went. They were here just moments ago, but now they're off to college and high school and no one stops us in the mall anymore to tell us that we have our hands full. Even though we do.
One day, not too long ago, I told Marianne that if I found the genie in the lamp I would wish for a five-year-old girl who would always be that age. "That was the greatest age, wasn't it?" I said, and she smiled, remembering. "We'd go to the park and they'd play on the swings and skip rope and sing songs and life was so incredibly simple, wasn’t it?"
Marianne would remember and nod. "We didn't really appreciate it then," she said. "We were so busy."
"I know," I said. "I wish I could buy a five-year-old and just have her stuck in time. Five was such a sweet age, wasn't it? So very innocent."
Marianne smiled with her eyes, and I tell you, my friend, those eyes hold so much of life's pain and joy. They tell such stories without speaking, those beautiful eyes. "We were busy," she said. "We never really had time to stop and think. We just took care of them and we did the best we could."
It was at this time last year - Christmas time, it was - that Marianne's mother became very ill and wound up on a respirator for several weeks. No one was sure what would happen, but she pulled through and she’s doing fine.
And it was during that time that Missy came to live with us. Missy is 33 years old and she has Downs Syndrome. We welcomed her into our home as just another potato in the pot. We have so many women in this house. Who could possibly notice another?
Missy stands by the door as Addie pulls her short yellow bus to a halt. "Addie's here!" Missy says as she hoists her schoolbag and trudges out across the lawn. "Bye, Poppy!" she shouts. I wave to her and to the other kids on the bus and they all wave back and smile. Some of those kids, I realize, are older than I am. I watch as Missy takes her seat on the bus, and I realize that God has answered my wish. I have my five-year-old, and I will have her for the rest of our lives. Missy will always be the same. She is one of God's bookmarks - one of the few constants in an ever-changing life. When my daughters were infants Missy would hold them in her lap and rock them to sleep. She'd look down into their tiny faces and say, "I go school tomorrow!" They'd look up at her and gurgle. My daughters are grown now, but Missy never changes, and she never flags in her enthusiasm. To her, every day is filled with promise and potential. Would that we all treated this precious life we've been granted in such a way.
Addie comes to a squeaking stop in front of our house late in the afternoon and honks her horn. I get up and go to the door. Missy tumbles off the bus and smiles as if the best part of the day is always just ahead of her. I wave to the kids on the bus and they wave back wildly. Missy drops her bag and gives me a hug. "Hi, Poppy!" she says. "I play basketball today."
"Did you score?" I ask.
"Two points," she says, holding up three fingers.
"Did you have a good day?"
"Can I see your book?" She fumbles through her bag and comes out with a worn Marble composition notebook, the kind I once used in grammar school. She opens the book to a page and points with a stubby finger. "Stacy wrote it," she says, continuing to point. "Stacey's my teacher." The note reads, "Michelle had a good day. She played basketball and we sang songs. She was very happy. Have a nice night." I glance back through the pages as Missy watches me. Stacey's entry for each day reads more or less the same. Michelle had a good day. Michelle had a good day.
"I had a good day, too," I say, giving her a hug.
"“Me too," she answers, and then adds the inevitable, "I go school tomorrow."
"Me too," I say, realizing that we will all go to school tomorrow. Won’t we? We're going to go to the School of Hard Knocks tomorrow - just as we did today - and hopefully we will learn something useful. Hopefully, we'll face the day with the same level of enthusiasm that Missy does. Hopefully, by the end of the day, we'll also be able to say, "I can’t wait for tomorrow."
Missy's concept of time revolves around Today and Tomorrow. That's it. She doesn't talk about the past, and she doesn't speculate on the far-off future. It's just Today and Tomorrow. That's all. And you know what? That's not a bad way to look at life.
Missy has no enemies. She holds no grudge. She is mean to no one. She plays a pretty good game of basketball. She practices writing her name for at least an hour every day of her life. She brings us her work as though it were worthy of a Nobel Prize. She's proud of her accomplishments. She loves her family, her friends, and her teachers. And she goes to school every day.
Today and Tomorrow.
She waits for the bus with wild enthusiasm, as if somehow things were going to be different today. And when they're not, she never scowls or complains. She just climbs on the bus again, and lives this day.
Today and Tomorrow.
In her wonderfully simple way, Missy understands that that's really all there is. Just Today and, hopefully, Tomorrow.
I wished for a five-year-old girl who would never grow old and God granted me my wish last Christmas. What more could any man want?