Astrid sat in the wagon like she always has. Esther typically does too. And then Eloise pushes or pulls and I do the other. It’s quite a climb up the hill from the barn and packing lot up to the lines of trees. Esther starting getting in and I told her that I would try, but didn’t think I could get the old and heavy wagon and both of them up the hill by myself. And half way up the hill Esther could tell I was struggling. She jumped out, got behind the wagon, and pushed Astrid up the big hill. I looked back at her to search her face – was she sad to not ride? But instead I found her smiling and asking Astrid if she enjoyed the ride. She looked proud. Big.
For the first time ever we went apple picking without Eloise. This is happening more and more. She’s invited to go places with friends. She has dance. She has to study. She wants to stay home by herself more.
She turns 12 soon. And we all feel it. This middle school shift of her priorities.
Last weekend she went away for the whole weekend to a cabin with a friend. I asked her if she wanted us to wait to pick apples and pumpkins until she returned. But she told us no, to go ahead without her. Her request was that we pick out the largest pumpkin for her, and to pick a good amount of honey crisp for her to eat when she returned on Sunday.
So we went without her. Reluctantly. She is always the one to grab Astrid’s hand and lead her around the farm – to feed the chickens, see the horse, jump in the hay, and to find the best pumpkin. She lifts her to pick the best apples, and she’d blow on her cider to get it cool enough to drink. Always the biggest sister and caretaker.
And I wasn’t sure how this day would go with this hole in our foursome.
But Esther stepped up as the biggest sister. She held hands and helped. She jumped and ran and helped with snacks. The girls picked the best apples – talking about which ones Eloise would eat. And when we entered the pumpkin patch – I could hear them saying that they’d make sure Eloise’s pumpkin would be the biggest.
It was okay. But my pictures still show something missing. Just like a part of my heart was gone that day.
But it’s a dynamic we have to get used to. Because pretty soon she’ll be gone more than home…and then Esther too. And in 13 years will I still go to the orchard to pick apples?
I guess maybe. But it will probably be without my camera.