Twelve years ago, I babysat for my sister Suri’s children for the very last time. In hindsight, what happened really wasn’t such a big deal. It shouldn’t have shaken me up like that; it shouldn’t have created such bad feelings between us.
But it did.
I was only 15 years old, the youngest in a large family of mostly married siblings. Suri, who was the third-eldest, had a houseful of little children and didn’t get out much. She was eagerly looking forward to the wedding of her neighbor’s daughter and had booked me weeks in advance. I was happy to babysit at Suri’s house—er, tiny apartment. Her five little ones were usually very well behaved, except for the baby, who only grudgingly took a bottle. Suri’s freezer was usually stocked with baked goods, she had plenty of books to read, and she even offered to pay me each time I came—though I would never accept money from her. Suri’s husband was in kollel in the morning and tutored in the afternoon, and she worked as a kindergarten teacher. It was no secret that money was tight. I saw it in the way Suri shopped, buying only on sale, often a year in advance, and gladly accepting hand-me-downs from some of our sisters.
Suri was a happy person, always singing and laughing, answering her children’s questions and catering to their demands with a smile.
When I entered Suri’s house that evening to babysit, I noticed that she looked tense. Perhaps it had something to do with the time; she had wanted to leave half an hour earlier but my brother-in-law Yanky had come home late, and now they were in a mad rush as they might miss the chuppah. She blew kisses at the children, put the baby in my arms, gave me quick instructions and was out the door before I could say, “Have a nice time.”
The next hour or so was very busy; I bathed, PJ’d and did homework with the older kids, gave the baby his bottle, burped and changed him, and finally put the children to bed. Suri’s house was a mess, dishes piled on the counter and in the sink, the floor littered with crumbs. I knew I wouldn’t get to read or schmooze on the phone tonight, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to help Suri, who always had time for me, her little sis. She didn’t treat me like a baby sister; she actually considered me to be an almost-adult, with opinions and feelings that mattered.
I tackled the huge pile of pots first, scrubbing and soaking and rinsing and drying and putting away, stopping to rewind the baby’s swing, coo to him, answer the phone and get a drink of water for little Ezzie, who couldn’t fall asleep. Suri called a couple of times, but I assured her everything was okay and that she should just have a great time and leave it all to me.