[Two months earlier]
“Mom!” Beth Stanton yodeled as she marched her 12-year-old black patent leather tap shoes down the stairs. “Mom!”
“I heard you the first time; the second, third, and fourth times were unnecessary young lady.” Katy Stanton reprimanded her oldest, but if she was honest, she deserved it. She had been ignoring Beth. And probably for a long time. She finished tying her younger daughter’s shoes, strolled into the family room, and found Beth sprawled on the floor in front of her science project. She was fairly certain she uttered her “Damn” sufficiently under her breath.
“You promised me you’d help me tape these photographs. My project is due today.”
“I know, I know, Mr. Willoughby and the rest of the class need to hear all about ‘The Amazing Life Cycle of the Army Ant.'” Katy watched Beth lay out photograph after photograph of enormous thoraxes and antennae. As she twirled among the brightly colored poster board festooned with plastic orange insects roving about, Beth’s hair tangled on the large ant mandibles Katy’s husband, Mark, had worked for hours on the night before.
“Don’t make fun, mom! Bet you didn’t know that army ants are always on the move. Did ya, huh? They don’t have a home or a colony. They never stop!”
As Katy watched her older daughter punch the air to accentuate her non-stop energy, she smiled. Beth was her spitting image: lanky, a smattering of freckles across her face, hair that ended in curls like seashells. Beth freed her hair from the ant mandibles and tapped out of the room. Katy allowed herself a few stolen moments of regret, understanding she was losing a baby to her teen years soon enough, until the sound of the kitchen chair jerked her back in the moment.
Katy walked into the kitchen to find her 6-year-old, Sarah, covered from head to toe in white powdered sugar, half a donut protruding from her mouth, with her hand reaching for the last donut.
“No mam, no you don’t!” Katy commanded, as she expertly weaved in and around the ghostly shell of sugar encasing her youngest, returning the kitchen chair to all four legs on the ground, and sliding the donuts out of harm’s and Sarah’s way.
“Mommy, I just wanna,” Sarah cried.
“No mam. Not today. I need you to go wash your face, and”
“Mom!” Beth had returned, sans her tap shoes. “You promised to help me with my science project.”
“Beth, I just need a minute.”
“You always need just a minute. It’s always just a minute with Sarah.”
Beth recognized the laser-eyed look her mother gave her, but Beth didn’t see that her mother worried she was right. Katy Stanton relaxed her shoulders, breathed, and guided Sarah toward the hall bathroom.
“Listen Beth,” she intoned, as she walked over to the realm of orange plastic ants, “I know it’s hard, but we’ve talked many times before about this. You know your sister needs extra care.”
Katy Stanton began taping a thorax next to a close-up mandible shot, making sure not to disturb the marching ants up and down the poster board. Beth wandered closer, handing her the last photo.
“I know sissy’s sick. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. And, there you go. Your ants are on the board, and not in your pants! Now, put this in the van, I’ll grab Sarah, and we’ll head to school.”
Katy watched Beth lug her project through the family room, mindful of the over-sized mandibles, and float out of view. “Congenital Nephrotic Syndrome” was the name doctor’s gave Sarah’s disease, but, no matter how many times she explained what it meant, why Sarah needed daily injections, and how the extra attention didn’t take away from their love of Beth, it never seemed to stick.