To the Littlest Boy in the Striped Shirts,
I knew from the first time you spilled apple juice in your lap at the kitchen table that we were going to be great friends. These other people, the bigger ones, they never spill. They eat all their food, and usually right in front of me. They sit on the couch and eat that turkey sandwich one delicious bite at a time. And I watch. Oh, yeah, I watch.
But you, buddy, you always leave something for me. You walk around with your sandwich held real close — precariously close, some might say — to the ground. The turkey slides out of the bread, and sometimes you leave a trail. I like to think you do this on purpose. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, when I snatch the sandwich out of your hand, I’m doing that on purpose, too.
I wasn’t sure when I first got here, though. You were even smaller then. You slept in my bed and put my tennis ball in your mouth. Your mom didn’t like that very much. Neither did I. I wasn’t sure if you were a puppy or I was small human. Then I followed you onto the couch and that cleared things up: No one with fur is allowed on the furniture. You don’t have fur, that is obvious, but have these people making the rules seen your sticky hands?
You liked to line me up with stuffed animals — the same ones I’d try to eat later (Note to self: The stuffed bird is off limits. Chewing him will end with me in my cage in the basement) — and you read stories to us. You read made-up words that weren’t on the page, but it didn’t matter. All I heard was “turkey sandwich, turkey sandwich” anyway.
In the backyard, you thought I could play soccer and baseball. You cheered every time I accidentally took the ball to the side fence. Yeah, I figured this out. Sadly, I would have done so much more for just a little bit more turkey.
While everyone else makes me “sit,” “stay” or “shake” for a treat, you gave me bones just for showing up. When you called my name, it wasn’t because you wanted to know where I was. You actually wanted to talk to me. To play with me. And that’s why I came running.
But you are growing now, Littlest Boy. Your pants don’t smell so bad. (OK, I mean “good.” Your pants actually smelled good to me back then.) But you still slip turkey underneath the kitchen table. For that alone, I will follow you to the ends of the Earth. Or, at least the driveway.
Those bigger boys are growing, too, and it worries me. Littlest Boy in the Striped Shirts, will you someday shut your bedroom door, too? Will you step over me while you talk on the phone with your friends? Will you eat everything on your plate, ask for more, and not notice me staring up at you?
Although, I must say that I have the oldest one trained well. I ring the bells hanging on the back door, and he lets me out. It doesn’t matter if he’s upstairs, in the basement or on the phone. He would probably come out of the shower to open the door for me. I ring the bells, he comes running. Fascinating!
But Littlest Boy in the Striped Shirts, I think he gets paid for this.
You are gone more often now, and I am home alone. I peruse your bedroom — you know, just in case you left some bite-sized Legos or puzzle pieces on the floor there. I see your stuffed bird taunting me from the top bookshelf, and I smell everything that is you. Sometimes, I nap in your room. I dream about when you used to read to me. If I jerk my legs in my sleep, that’s when I’m running with you, the Littlest Boy in the Striped Shirts, in the backyard.
Then, when I hear you coming home (I can hear you a mile away, kid — I think everyone can), I run to the steps and wait. Your backpack holds all the smells of your adventure: books, pencils, snack time, dirty tennis shoes and friends who also have sticky hands.
You are busy in the afternoons now. You have sports to play and friends’ houses to go to. I spend a lot of time watching out the front window for you. I miss your sandwiches, but I also miss you.
And that is why my favorite part of the day is bedtime. You wait until I’m in my spot next to your bed, and then you read aloud a bedtime story. You check often to make sure I’m still there, guarding you as your eyes start to close.
Don’t worry Littlest Boy in the Striped Shirts. I am here. And I will be here as long as you will have me.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.