By Shaindle Schmuckler / shaindle@atljewishtimes.com

Shaindle Schmuckler

Shaindle Schmuckler

When I was 8 years old, my mom gave me the best Mother’s Day present. I became a big sister, again.

Mom (z”l) and Dad (z”l) were living on the second floor of Building 1 of twin apartment buildings. Located directly across from private homes and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, these buildings were visible from way down the Fairmont Place hill. You knew you were almost home when you could spot the buildings as you reached the top of the hill.

The church steps were the perfect place to take graduation photos, birthday photos or just-for-the-heck-of-it photos.

These apartment buildings occupied an entire city block. Wearing a coat of light brick and boasting huge windows and beautiful gardens along the brick walkway leading up to the elegant lobby, our building was an architectural beauty. At the time I did not stop to consider the elegance; I just knew the lobby was a perfect rainy- or sunny-day playroom where my cousins, friends and I played.

The four steps on either side of the lobby were intended to lead inhabitants to four of the larger apartments and to the mailboxes (located under the steps). The fancy velvet (seriously, velvet!) chairs and marble end tables were a perfect backdrop for children choosing to morph into kings and queens. Mrs. Goldberg, our home-grown spy, lived in a perfectly situated corner apartment.

We were living on the fourth floor in 1D at the top of the staircase. It was a rather spacious one-bedroom. Our bedroom was large enough to house my parents’ bed; my junior bed, which was placed on the right side of my parents’ bed near a huge window; and my sister’s crib, which was originally mine, placed at the wall facing the foot of their bed.

The living room/kitchen had double windows, from which I could look across the alley to see into my cousins’ kitchen window. When I was hallucinating from a high fever, sick with viral pneumonia and chickenpox, I would sneak over to the double windows when I was specifically told not to get out of bed. Admit it: If you were certain the mice invading your home were not a wild hallucination, you would head to the nearest window as well.

Then one day my mother made a surprise announcement — a real surprise for my parents, who at first were struck speechless.

We moved to 5D immediately after Mother’s Day. It boasted a large main bedroom, a separate living room, a separate kitchen and a small hallway. The bedroom was a dedicated space for me and for the girl who was to become known as the middle sister. My parents turned the living room into their bedroom, which would house my crib. On June 1, the surprise, wrapped up as a baby sister, arrived, and I was ecstatic. I had my very own living baby doll. Thanks, Mom, for the Mother’s Day gift.

At a mere 1 month of age, my real-life baby doll traveled with the family to the bungalow colony in the New York mountains where we spent the summers until I left for overnight camp. I loved the responsibility of caring for my baby; after all, not many 8-year-olds receive a real-life baby doll as a gift from Mom.

There was just a tiny problem, or shall I say challenge?

One morning, around her nap time, I had to figure out how I could swim in the beautiful lake with my cousins and friends while taking care of my baby. I strolled around in my bathing suit, singing while pushing her carriage, hoping she would fall asleep quickly. No such luck. Shazzam! The solution came to me. I turned the carriage facing the sun so she would be forced to shut her eyes. It worked: She fell sound asleep. The lake was delicious that day.

When my baby sister became a toddler, my solution to the tiny problem seemed to backfire. We noticed she had one lazy eye. Guilt consumed me. It must have been the sunshine burning her eyes, causing one eye to get lazy. I couldn’t tell a soul, the guilt was so great. I cried and begged the eye to stop being lazy. It did not work. My mom supplied the eye with lots and lots of carrots, which did not work. It was just lazy! I spoiled my Mother’s Day gift.

My guilt hit an all-time high when my sweet baby sister entered elementary school. I came home from school one afternoon to find that her eye doctor’s appointment led to glasses and an eye patch. How the eye patch would work was a mystery to me. Seriously, what did I know about eye muscles? I thought muscles were synonymous with boys’ upper arms.

My baby sister grew up to be an extraordinary woman, smart as a whip (what does “smart as a whip” mean anyway?), beautiful, funny and a great dancing partner. She never blamed her lazy eye on me. After years of guilt, I finally put it to rest — at least I thought I did. So what’s with this 850-word confession about a Mother’s Day gift from so long ago?