I brushed the raindrops off my nose and opened the back door just as my little sister, Mikey, came dancing into the kitchen. She was carrying a shoe box and a newspaper. “Hey, Mikey, what’s in the box?” I asked.
She looked at me and raised her eyebrows, her chipmunk cheeks bulging with vanilla wafers. “Stuff.” She turned and skipped down the hall to her room.
My brother, Joe, looked over the top of his peanut-butter sandwich. “It’s a present for Dad’s birthday tomorrow,” he said between bites.
“But what is it?”
“Mithens,” he mumbled, his mouth full of peanut butter and jelly.
“Did you say mittens?”
He nodded. “She’s giving Dad her pink sweater and her favorite mittens, the ones with the little clown faces on them. I saw her take them out of the hall closet.”
I started to laugh, picturing Dad trying to squeeze himself into Mikey’s little clothes, then covered my mouth so that Mikey wouldn’t hear.
“Don’t tell,” Joe warned, gulping down a glass of milk.
“I won’t,” I promised, still trying not to laugh.
It’s kind of weird. Some of my friends think their little brothers and sisters are pests. Sometimes I do get mad at Mikey. Like when she tried to feed my goldfish a bite of chocolate cupcake. It mucked up the water, and my fish almost died. But most of the time Joe and I think Mikey is just about the sweetest, best, funniest little sister in the whole world. Her real name is Michailah, after our grandmother, but everybody calls her Mikey.
Joe was seven and I was five when she was born. She was premature—that means she was born too early. She was so little that she had to stay in the hospital for a long time. We prayed and prayed for her to get big enough to come home, and finally she did. Dad says that sometimes almost losing something makes it seem even more special to you. I guess he’s right about that, because we sure love Mikey a lot.
After dinner, Mikey helped me dry the dishes. When I asked her if she wanted me to help her wrap her box, she put her hands on her hips and cocked her head. “It’s a secret,” she announced. “I have to do it my own self.”
The next day when I got home from school, Mikey grabbed my hand and pulled me into the living room. There it was—Mikey’s box—wrapped up in the Sunday comics. There were pieces of tape sticking out all over. Mikey’s eyes were shining. “Daddy’s going to love it!”
I smiled, stooping down and putting my arms around her. “Well, I can see you’re pleased with yourself.”
She nodded and brushed a little lock of tangled hair off her forehead. “How much more longer till Daddy comes home?”
“Not long,” I told her.
Right after dinner, we helped Mom clear the table and put Dad’s birthday cake and presents on it. Then we all sat down. All except Mikey. She was so excited, she looked like a little rainbow lit up with sunbeams. She was practically dancing in her chair. “Pick mine, Daddy!” she squealed.
“And could this be it?” Dad smiled, reaching for the wrapped shoe box.
Mikey nodded. “Daddy, I didn’t have any money but I got you something special to keep you warm.”
Slowly Dad tore off the Sunday comics, then lifted the lid. I looked at Joe. He looked at me and winked. Dad lifted the pink sweater and little mittens from the box. “Ooooh!” he said. “A new sweater and mittens to keep me warm. Should I try them on?” His eyes twinkled.
Mikey put her hands over her mouth and started to giggle. “No, you funny Daddy! These are my stuff!” She reached out and snatched the sweater and mittens from Dad’s hands.
I looked at Joe. He looked at me, his eyebrows raised in a question mark. We looked at Mom. She looked puzzled, too. Dad just sat there with his mouth half open, looking confused.
Mikey slipped the soft pink sweater over her head and wiggled her hands into the mittens. “I didn’t get you clothes, Daddy.” She was still giggling. “I got you a hug!” She laughed, putting her sweatered arms around Dad’s neck and giving him a big squeeze. “See? It’s a nice wooly hug, and it’ll keep you warm in your heart,” she whispered, patting him gently with her soft mittens.
Dad didn’t look confused anymore. He was smiling, but his eyes were sort of misty. “Thank you, Mikey,” he said at last. “Thank you for a very special gift. I will remember it always.”
“Can I have one of those mitten hugs for my birthday, too?” Joe asked.
“Me, too?” I added.
Mikey shook her head. “Nope,” she said. “You don’t have to wait for your birthday ’cause you can have one right now!”