It has not been a great morning. The family is sick. The boy and girl are restless, the mother is tired. All three are still wet, from the morning swimming lesson none of them really wanted to take. The boy and girl sit on a bench in a change-room, damply disappointed in their mother. She’s been forgetful, lately. The juice they were counting on after getting out of the pool is on a shelf in the refrigerator, at home. The snacks their mother usually packs are still in their places in the pantry. Their mother offers apologies, but even at 2 and 5, they know resignation when they hear it. She’s close to giving up, pleads with them to just be quiet, let her get dressed.
“Why don’t you just distract your sister? Please?”
He could say, “NO!”. He could jump up and down, amusing himself. He could ignore her, her selfishness.
Instead he turns, faces his whining sister.
He holds her small head in his hands, gently. Looks into her eyes.
“Once upon a time, there was a princess. She was a beautiful princess, but she was smart, too. One time, her and her brother, the prince, went on a ride…”
The mother turns away. The selfless gesture of this child has taken her breath. She can tell that the whining girl has stopped, become still, is in the story with her brother. She tries not to make herself part of their moment, and yet greedily relishes it at the same time.
“Again! Again!” the girl shrieks, when the brother finishes. The mother whispers her thanks to the boy.
As they leave the change-room, the brother takes his sister aside. “Hey! Did you know that the princess was actually you?”. She smiles up at him, nods. They hold hands, and walk out. Their mother is happy that neither looks back, that she doesn’t have to explain why she’s crying.