the covenant

A ministering angel shall my sister be.

~ William Shakespeare

Wednesday, early evening

Katie and I are walking down Newbury Street, Boston’s somewhat provincial version of Fifth Avenue. As we pass the gorgeous old Church of the Covenant on the corner of Berkeley Street. Katie tugs at my arm. There is an elderly woman who appears to be homeless huddled by the church’s fence. She sits next to an overflowing shopping cart. Attached to the cart is a crude cardboard sign asking for money.

“Mama,” Katie asks, “can I?”

It’s the doe eyes that do me in.

I take a bill from my bag and hand it to her.

“Thank you, Mama!” she says with a grin. You’d think I’d handed her a puppy.

She walks over to the woman and gives her the bill. They share a moment as the older woman looks up at her, her weathered face breaking into the warmest smile I’ve ever seen. “God bless you, little one,” she says to my girl. “God bless you too,” Katie says in return. The moment passes slowly.

The old woman’s smile lingers as she watches Katie walk away. The long, deep wrinkles in her chocolate-brown skin curve and swirl, dancing from her mouth to her forehead. Her face tells a thousand stories. It has not been an easy road.

Katie takes my hand and we continue our walk. Or start to.

“Mama,” she asks, her voice nearly a whisper, “why do you think that woman was homeless? Like, how does that happen?”

My breath catches in my throat. I think of the article I’d read earlier in the day about a Sheriff in Cook County, Illinois who says that his jail has become the largest mental health provider in the state of Illinois. The one that shocked me, but didn’t.

I try to answer, but instead a tear rolls down my cheek.

“Mama! What is it? What happened? Why are you crying?” Katie asks in a confused panic.

I know I have to get the words out.

“Baby, I’m sorry,” I say. “It’s just .. well .. it’s hard. You see, when I see people like that woman – people from a different generation – well, it’s just ..”

I am fumbling. The words aren’t easy to find.

“It’s just that I think that a lot of the time they are people kinda like Brooke, baby. But back then they didn’t have the support that they needed to manage in the world. And well, they can’t really make it without that, ya know?”

I try to stop them, but the tears are now flowing along with the words. They don’t feel adequate, but I don’t want to say, “Because this is why moms and dads like me wake up breathless at two o’clock in the morning, honey.”

“It just scares me, baby,” I say.

Katie stops walking. She lets go of my hand and grabs both of my arms, squaring me to her. She looks right in my eyes as she says, “Mama, I will ALWAYS be there for her. I promise.”

It’s the doe eyes that do me in.

The dam opens and the tears fall in earnest.

“Oh, baby,” I say. “I never want you to feel like ..”

She cuts me off. “It’s OK, Mama. I promise.”

And so it was that on Wednesday, early in the evening in the middle of Newbury Street, in front of the Church of the Covenant, I stood hugging my girl with everything I had until both of us were ready to continue down the road.

57 thoughts on “the covenant

  1. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Katie will always be there for Brooke– whatever Brooke ends up needing from her. You are raising two amazing children, Jess.

  2. I have no other words other than that Katie is the most incredible child ever to walk this earth! She is beautiful inside and out. She so often leaves me speechless!

    Love you,

  3. Katie is as special as her Mom!! What a wonderful heart she has. I understand exactly how you feel knowing Katie will be there for Brooke. We feel the same way about Ali and Tommy when it comes to their brother.
    It fills you with love and pride. xoxo Carol

  4. Crying into my coffee. I can’t help but think of my little Ainsley, only 5 months old….almost 4 years younger than her big sister…being charged with the same destiny(and taking care of her big sister will be something she never sees as a burden). Katie is a beautiful person. And I’ll say it again…that girl’s soul is OLD. She is wise beyond her years. And you are BOTH lucky to have each other.

  5. i worked with the mentally ill for years and appreciate that quote about jail being the largest mental health provider…very, very true, unfortunately. i would interact with police officers from time to time…they all expressed regret about their regular interacations with the mentally ill. one officer said, “the last thing i want is to give some schizophrenic person a hard time.” they wanted better support and services for the mentally ill, and for people with other sorts of differences, as much as anyone, they seemed to really empathize with the situation. my guess is that police officers interact with people who are different on a regular basis; and they see those interactions, sometimes, go terribly wrong. and they, again, all seemd to regret the relationship between the police and people with differences. the whole issue is scary.

  6. I am in awe of your girl. Truly speechless. She is beautiful to her core. And a true blessing to all who encounter her. Love you all.

  7. Thanks for letting the tears flow, this on did me in. I think we all have these feelings for our children. Know that her big sis will look out for her. Sending love your way.

  8. Jess, can your computer guy add a Kleenex rating to these so we can be better prepared? This one was a 4. I would have saved it until later had I known! xxoo

  9. This post should come with a disclaimer to have a box of tissues handy. I think the people in the waiting room at my doctor’s office are wondering why I’m crying. 🙂

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  11. Beautiful.
    Having this large family gives me comfort to know that our son has his siblings. I know he will always have support from them.

  12. It’s so scary. My co-worker is the only child of elderly parents. His wife is the only child of elderly parents. They have an only son who is 11 yrs old and has autism and cerebral palsy. Their absolute biggest worry is what will happen to him when they are gone. There is no family. But even if there were, that’s a lot to ask someone to take on. So so scary.

  13. I’d say she means it. That stirs as many emotions, if not more, than all the question marks of the past-present-future. Bless her heart!

  14. My two daughters have said similar things to me in regards to their sister and her “sensationalism” … It says a lot about us as parents and our children when we are able to teach the to always be there for their sibling…. What a beautiful and amazing you lady you are growing there 🙂

  15. Just tears. You have 2 beautiful daughters and I hope this eases some of the worry in your heart for Brooke. I am mom to a newly diagnosed 2yo son and I hope my older 5yo will show compassion to his brother as Katie does to Brooke. Your blog inspires me and gives me hope. Thank you.

  16. Fast forward to my world, re-writing our wills and trusts so my oldest will be the legal guardian to the younger one. Albeit, my oldest, a college student on his way to law school, he is the only one on Earth that we can trust to help the youngest “be the best that he can be.” Side by side, through doctor meetings, therapy appointments and countless evaluations, my oldest was at my side for his brother. Perhaps by circumstance or by heavenly design, as a family, we have made this decision at the request of my oldest. With every day, we hope we will live long enough to make it possible for the youngest to find his path and be self sufficient…..but if all else fails, they have each other…..a bond so strong, nothing will separate my boys.

  17. I don’t know how you raised such an amazing, empathetic, wonderful child… but if you could write a manual for the rest of us explaining your tricks… that would be awesome!!

    Seriously though, Katie is fantastic.

  18. Katie is a great sister. Would you expect any less? Of course not. Neither would any parent. If something should happen to me or my adult brother, my mother would still expect the other to “be there”. She should expect this. If one if my children is in need as they grow older, I as their mother, expect the other two to make sure “things are all right”. Family is family. Some family members are stronger, smarter, richer, more talented, whatever. God gives us the people we need. Brooke has those people and Katie is one of them. As He meant for it to be….

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  23. Thank you for this story. What true compassion you have and it’s clear that you have passed that to your children. Inspiring.

  24. Oh how I love your posts! How heartwrenching and heartwarming at the same time. Been there. Exactly there. And crying today … it’s good to let it out once in awhile :). I have two daughters and my “Katie” (age 13) and I have had similar discussions. My husband and I truly struggled considering having a 3rd child and the huge doubt of how it could help or take away from our “Brooke” (who is also 10). In the end we agreed to keep our current family size of 4 and focus all our efforts on helping our youngest be the most amazing version of herself. I so look forward to all your posts … but glad I read this one at home before I got ready for the day, lol! You are the Best!

  25. It is generally believed that crying stimulates the release of endorphins in the bloodstream. I now have my daily dose of endorphins. Big hugs to you and your family.

    P.S. I’ve stood in that same spot countless times. I grew up not far away in South Brookline, and I lived on Beacon Hill and in the South End, oh, a mere 30 odd years ago before the South End became “the place to live” in Boston.

  26. I have to remind myself to breathe after this post, because right now it’s so so hard. Both of my children are on the spectrum. I have no Katie. And my husband and I try not to think about what will happen in the end, since they’re still so young. I want to repost this on every autism page, on each and every blog and organization’s page that participates in the autism in-fighting. All the fights over cures, diets, celebrity autism moms, causes- it all needs to stop. THIS must be our focus. THIS needs to be our drive. Because our kids aren’t getting any younger. Because there are generations of our kids that have been forgotten, that are currently forgotten because they are grown and the focus is only on children. I am sad and I am scared and I am so over the fighting and negativity and the noise. The noise doesn’t help my kids. This reminder does. Once again, you bring the focus back on what is important. And I don’t feel so small. So, thank you.

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