My older son, Stephen, was at school, and Reed, my husband, at work. My three little ones were clustered around the kitchen counter, the tabletop piled high with crayons and markers. Extra long sheets of white paper stretched across the counter as far as their tiny arms could reach. The baby was sound asleep in his crib as Tom, Laura, and Sam labored to create works of art to be shown to Daddy at dinnertime.
Tom was perfecting a paper airplane, creating his own insignia with stars and stripes, while Sam worked on a self-portrait, his chubby hands drawing first a head, then legs and arms sticking out where the body should have been. The children mostly concentrated on their work, Tom occasionally tutoring his younger brother on exactly how to make a plane that would fly the entire length of the room.
But Laura, our only daughter, sat quietly, engrossed in her project.
Every once in a while she would ask how to spell a name of someone in our family, then painstakingly form the letters one by one. Next, she would add flowers with small green stems, complete with grass lining the bottom of the page. She finished off each with a sun in the upper right hand corner, surrounded by an inch or two of blue sky. Holding them at eye level, she let out a long sigh of satisfaction.
"What are you making, Honey?" I asked.
She glanced at her brothers before looking back at me.
"It's a surprise," she said, covering up her work with her hands.
Next, she taped the top two edges of each sheet of paper together, trying her best to create a cylinder. When she had finished, she disappeared up the stairs with her treasure.
It wasn't until later that evening that I noticed a "mailbox" taped onto the doors to each of our bedrooms. There was one for Steve. There was one for Tom. She hadn't forgotten Sam or baby Paul. My heart softened when I saw that Reed and I had one pasted to our door as well, complete with lopsided hearts.
For the next few weeks, we received mail on a regular basis. There were little notes confessing her love for each of us. There were short letters full of tiny compliments that only a seven-year-old would notice. I was in charge of retrieving baby Paul's letters, page after page of colored scenes including flowers with happy faces.
"He can't read yet," she whispered. "But he can look at the pictures."
Each time I received one of my little girl's gifts, it brightened my heart.
One night, just as my husband and I were winding down, readying for bed, I looked across from my room and into the hall. I stared at the mailbox that Laura had made for herself. Suddenly, I realized that our little angel's mailbox had sat empty all the while the rest of us had enjoyed her love notes. My eyes filled with tears.
Seeing my distress, Reed immediately questioned me about what was troubling me.
A thick lump locked in my throat as I pointed to her empty box. Without saying a word, he knew exactly what I was trying to tell him.
He brushed my hair off my forehead and planted a kiss on my furrowed brow.
"I'll take care of it," he said.
In the weeks that followed, this little girl and her daddy exchanged the sweetest of love notes.
"I love your eyes, Honey," he'd write. "I noticed how kind you were to baby Paul." "Thanks for letting Sam have his way this time. It shows how grown up you are."
In return, her tiny hands penned words of love and support for him, how she loved to see him after a long day of work and how much his tucking her into bed at night meant.
This same little girl is grown now, driving off every day to the community college. But some things about her have never changed. One afternoon only a week or so ago, I found a love note next to my bedside.
"Thanks for always being there for me, Mom," it read. "I'm glad that we're the best of friends."
I couldn't help but remember the precious child whose smile has brought me countless hours of joy throughout the years. There are angels among us. I know. I live with one.