Loving Her Best

Loving Her Best

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Loving Her Best

I hold my breath as the bailiff calls out, “Hear ye, hear ye. The case of Jessica and Sarah Shouse versus their mother, Deborah, for alleged favoritism and discriminatory parenting practices.”

Behind me, the audience of mothers stirs and whispers. Across the aisle at the plaintiff’s table, Jessica and Sarah are squabbling over who gets to drink first from the single glass.

“Jessica Shouse, come forward,” the bailiff commands.

As Jessica stands, I see Sarah’s look of outrage. I know what she’s thinking: The oldest always gets to go first.

Jessica approaches the witness stand, carrying her notebook, glitter pen and a Sweet Valley High book.

“Tell us about the charges against your mother,” the judge says, her voice patient and sweet.

Jessica tactfully removes a wad of pink gum, which she places on the edge of her book.

“On January 10, she gave HER (she points at Sarah with an accusatory finger), two cookies, and I got only one. On February 2, Sarah hit me first, and I got in trouble when I hit her back. In March, Sarah sat in the front seat 118 times, while I got the front only 112 and a half times.”

“One hundred twelve and a half?” the judge asks.

“Sarah had a friend over, so she had to sit in the backseat with her. That only counts for half.” Jessica’s voice grows louder. “SHE went to summer camp while I stayed home. SHE got special watercolors, and I had to use broken crayons.”

“But you didn’t want to go to camp! You don’t even like art.” The words pour out of me. “Jessica would rather read,” I tell the judge. I turn to the audience. “I got her books instead of paints.”

Empathetic murmuring arises from the women in the courtroom, punctuated by “Shhhh,” and “Stop pinching.” The judge bangs her gavel. “Please, Ms. Shouse, restrain yourself.” Then she looks at my younger daughter.

“Sarah Shouse, will you now take the stand?”

Sarah clambers into the witness chair. The bailiff produces two phone books for her to sit on.

“What do you have to say, Sarah?” the judge asks.

“Jessica always gets to go first. She gets better clothes and more books and even though her room is messier than mine, she never, ever gets in trouble.”

I bite my lip, trying hard to contain myself. I glance behind me. “Hang in there,” one mom mouths. My hands are damp as I finally take the stand. All the mothers lean forward, straining to hear my every word.

“I have tried to be a good and fair mom. I blended my own organic baby food and bought only developmentally appropriate educational toys. I have offered my daughters coloring books, with and without lines. I have listened to them, played with them. I really did the best I could. I plead not guilty to the charges of Loving Her Best.”

The courtroom buzzes.

“Now, for my expert witnesses,” I say, my knees weak as I relinquish my seat.

My friend Jackie, a professor of literature at a local university, comes forward. “In grade school, my perfect sister made straight As while I made Cs.” She fingers her Phi Beta Kappa necklace. “If I hadn’t been so jealous of my sister, I never would have studied in high school and figured out how smart I am.”

Next, Linda, a martial arts instructor, tells how her bully of a big sister caused her to take karate. She thought she was getting even, but she ended up getting a career.

Carol, gorgeous in a flowing designer frock, describes how her sister got all the clothes. “That inspired me to open up a chain of boutiques,” Carol says.

The judge calls me over. “Are you implying that sibling rivalry has its up side?”

I nod.

“That’s a relief,” says the judge in a low tone. “My children are five and seven. Running this courtroom is a cinch compared to keeping things equal at home. . . .”

She bangs her gavel.

“Case dismissed.”

“You started it!” Jessica’s voice bangs into me, startling me out of my courtroom fantasy.

“Mom, she hit me. Plus, she’s hogging the slide.”

I open my eyes. Sarah sniffles back righteous tears as she snuggles next to me on the park bench. Only minutes ago, Jessica had patiently instructed Sarah on the art of pumping the swing. What happened?

“Let’s go home girls, “ I say wearily.

“It’s my turn to sit in the front!” Sarah proclaims.

“No, it’s mine.”

“Girls,” I make my voice stern, “come here right now.”

For a moment, they are both still. Then Jessica reaches out and takes Sarah’s hand. The sight of them, standing united, ready to stick together, fills me with a deep love. I watch them walk toward me, Sarah trying to match her sister’s stride. As they get close, I hold out my arms. There is plenty of room for both inside.

Deborah Shouse

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