It is sweeter than usual to see her smile, dimples creeping into her baby cheeks, blue eyes crinkling in the corners.
She is seven years old and in the first grade. She is here, safe and sound, but she could not be.
Just as easily as not, Sandy Hook could have been our school, our first graders. My first grader.
I am thankful for her, even as she and her brother argue over books at bedtime or she and her sister giggle (then fight) together long after they are supposed to be sleeping.
I don't mind when she climbs into bed with us in the middle for the night, plastering her heater of a little body against mine, making it hard for me to sleep. Her eyes are squeezed shut tight, reminding me of a sleepy kitten; there two chubby fingers in her mouth. We just can't seem to break her of that habit even though the dentist reminds us we will (literally) be paying for it in a few years.
Sunday comes and she is Mary in a small Christmas program at a nearby nursing home. Her sweet voice is loud and clear singing praises about the birth of our Lord, the Savior come for one and all. Every once in awhile she catches my eye, and the dimples spring forth, but she can't smile too long, lest it distract from her song and oh-so-important role.
Later, before bed, we pray. We pray for those who died, because she knows. She smiles because she reminds me that they are with Jesus.
She asks me if heaven is fun and I smile and say, "So fun!"
She asks me if the kids will get to play in heaven and I tell her, "They can play all day and all night! They don't have to be bothered with chores and bedtime, they can just be with Jesus and have fun." I smile, because I like the sound of that, also.
Her smile is wider, eyes brighter, dimples deeper. She has those chubby fingers in her mouth and nods her head, breathing out "That sounds FUN!" I kiss her and she rolls over, getting cozy for the night.
A few minutes later, I check on her and she is peacefully sleeping, smiling, fingers still lodged in her mouth. I am thankful that my first grader is here, safe and sound.