From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

Falling in Love with Molly

Agorgeous example of denial is the story about the little girl who was notified that a baby . . . sister was on the way. She listened in thoughtful silence, then raised her gaze from her mother’s belly to her eyes and said, “Yes, but who will be the new baby’s mommy?”

Judith Viorst

My son Joe knew about Molly even before I did.

He was fourteen years old and had just walked through the open door of the bathroom, where I was standing at the sink. “Just need to grab my hair gel,” he said, reaching up to the shelf above my head. I was startled and turned slightly away from him. But it was too late. He had already noticed that I was holding something in my hand.

“What’s that?” he asked.

For a moment, I didn’t answer him. Just mumble something, I said to myself. He doesn’t listen to most of what you say anyway. But there was something about the depth of his voice behind me, something about the fact that it was coming from a good five inches above me, that made me turn and tell him the truth.

“It’s a pregnancy test,” I said, looking down at the little white wand. “I . . . I don’t really think I’m . . . you know . . . it’s just a possibility . . . a remote possibility . . . your Dad said I should try one of these kits . . .”

I looked up at Joe as my voice trailed off. His face had gone white. He didn’t look so grown up after all.

“How do you know if it’s . . . positive?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, reaching for the instruction leaflet, “it says here that a little red line would appear.”

Just then, the phone rang. I had been waiting to hear from my husband all day—I didn’t want to miss his call. “Hold this for a minute,” I said, handing the wand to Joe. “Don’t tip it. I’ll be right back.”

It wasn’t my husband. “Okay,” I said, heading back into the bathroom. “Sorry about all this, Joe, the time’s up anyway. I’ll just throw that thing in the—” I stopped. The wand was lying in the sink. Joe was staring down at it. Slowly, he raised his head, turned, and looked straight at me.

“There’s a line,” he said. “A little red line.” His eyes narrowed. “A gross, disgusting, little . . . red . . . line.”

And then he walked past me, out of the bathroom, down the stairs, out the side door, and as much as was possible for the next nine months, out of our lives.

By the time our daughter Molly was due to be born, I had grown accustomed to my eldest son’s embarrassment and animosity. I had grown accustomed to a lot of things, not the least of which was having an unexpected child at the age of thirty-nine, long after we thought our family of two boys was complete. My husband, to his eternal credit, was delighted. Our younger son, eleven-year-old Shea, pored over the baby books with me, keenly following the week-by-week progress of his little sister’s in utero development. Throughout it all, Joe rarely spoke to me, except to say, “You don’t have to come to my school,” and—after a marathon baby-naming conference—“Molly is Ron’s dog’s name.”

When Molly finally arrived—tiny, quiet and perfect— six family arms were there to draw her close. But Joe’s remained tightly crossed over his chest, on the far side of the hospital room. It was an effort to step outside my bliss, to call to him, to beckon him into our circle of adoration. Shaking his head just slightly, he backed up farther into the corridor. I could see him standing there, arms still folded, staring straight ahead.

Joe arranged to be at a friend’s cottage when Molly and I came home from the hospital. He was still gone ten days later when I took our daughter for her first check-up. He arrived home just as I was coming back, tears streaming down my face. “The doctor thinks she might have a hearing problem,” I sobbed. “She’s too quiet, she’s not responding like she should. We have to have her tested.”

As my husband soothed me, downplaying my worry, I noticed that Joe had stopped beside the baby, sound asleep in her car seat. He reached out to her, shifting her slightly away from a bump in the carpet. “She’s okay,” he said, looking down at her. “There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s just little.”

He looked up at us. I stopped crying. I held my breath. “I’m going in-line skating,” he said. “I’ll put my stuff away when I get back.”

Three months later, as I walked the floor at 4:00 A.M. with a fretful, inconsolable (and otherwise perfectly healthy) baby in my arms, I stumbled into Joe’s room and nudged him awake. “Joe, could you take her? Just for a few minutes? I can’t settle her down, Dad’s at work, I just really need a break.”

Saying nothing, but throwing off his covers, Joe took his little sister from me. He laid her briefly on his bed, tightly rewrapping her blanket. Putting her over his shoulder, he patted her back, spoke to her softly, slowly walked her up and down the hall outside his room. It wasn’t his first night with Molly, and it wouldn’t be his last.

In the months before Molly was born, a lot of people told us about the pleasures of a baby who comes late. “A do-it-yourself grandchild,” said one old gentleman. “We had one of those, the best thing that ever happened to us.” “A change-of-life child,” said another. “What a blessing.” “A caboose baby,” said an aunt. “They’re always the sweetest.” They assured us that we would cherish this unexpected detour in our lives.

They were right. But they didn’t mention the bonus. They didn’t tell us about the sight of a baby stroller parked perilously close to a backyard basketball net, a mop-haired one-year-old shrieking in delight as lanky teenagers tore back and forth in front of her. They didn’t talk about a chubby toddler, dressed in a size-large hockey jersey, scooping up the puck that always slid directly into her oversized glove. They didn’t describe a two-year-old, sitting high atop a stack of cushions at the kitchen table, “helping” earnestly with grade-eleven math. Or the four-year-old wrapped tightly around the legs of the smiling graduate, in each and every photo.

No one ever predicted the first family visit to a college dorm, where sixteen drawings of the same two stick figures competed on the wall with air-brushed, leggy calendar girls. They didn’t portray newly muscled arms holding up a struggling swimmer, a shaky skater, a first-time skier. They failed to account for an impish little face hanging out the window of a rusty, rumbling car, or prepare me to be bypassed on the platform for tiny outstretched arms. Certainly, no one ever warned me that I would have to will my heart to stay intact one Christmas Eve, when a seven-year-old with a brother on the other side of the world asked if she could trade all the presents under the tree for “our Joey at the door.”

No one ever told me about the joy of seeing your own little girl perched on the shoulders of your own grown-up son, her arms reaching down toward him, his grinning, handsome face turned up toward her laughter. They couldn’t tell me. Because they couldn’t describe it.

Liz Mayer

Joe and Molly out for a day of skating.

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