Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Best Gift I Never Wanted

I vaguely remember the day. It was October 6 and I was 5 years old. My bag was packed and I was sent to Grandma's, one of my favorite places to be, for a week. My mom and dad were staying home to enjoy their last night of relative peace and quiet before our new baby was born. I was excited, and a bit nervous. I had seen babies before, but never had one living with me, so this was an adventure. I had ordered a boy. It seemed like a good choice: someone I could run around with, digging up worms and "saving" baby birds, but not having to share clothes or my favorite girly toys. I felt pretty confident that I'd get a brother, too. My mom hadn't specifically promised that she could deliver the goods, but in my experience with her leaving home and coming back with stuff, more often than not she managed to return with, if not specific things I'd requested, at least things that ultimately satisfied me.
The next afternoon, my Aunt Debbie showed up to take me to meet my new sibling. She smiled at me while she loaded me into the car and said, "You have a new baby sister, Mickey-Boom! She's so cute. You'll love her." There's nothing hazy about my recollection of that moment. My memory is crystal clear. I thought, "Wait. A girl??? But, I ASKED for a boy!!" I probably would've cussed if I'd known any bad words at the time.
For most of the next 15 years, she was a royal pain in my ass.
Don't get me wrong, the first few years (before I had any personal responsibility for or to her) were great. She was like a cute new toy that smelled nice, and smiled at me whenever I talked to her. She did all kinds of tricks--rolled over, laughed out loud, sat up, toddled around, talked baby talk, and made this adorable snuffling face when fed something she particularly liked.
But after the New Baby Smell wore off, it was a whole, 'nother story. She cried all the time. She always wanted stuff that belonged to me. She made messes, borrowed my socks without permission, demanded my attention constantly, and always got hurt on my watch. To add insult to injury, my parents started requiring me to act like a Big Sister. They asked me to be a positive influence on the girl and to set a good example for her. To take her places when I went. To take blame when we did something wrong. To protect her from all comers. Me. I hadn't even wanted her, and all of a sudden, I'm responsible for her??? It was categorically unfair, and for years, I fought it.
I fought her attempts to get close to me, to get all up in my space, to get my attention.  To get me to love her, basically. I did love her in that mechanical "because you're family," sort of way, but in all our years together, I never really let myself get to know her, so it was more of a requirement than a choice.
I didn't really learn to appreciate her until I went away to college, when I looked past the years of tattling, clothes stealing, and bed hogging, and was able to see the incredible person she is. Once I actually paid attention to her, I realized how much she had to teach me. In the years since, I've learned so much from my sweet Sissie.
I've learned to choose laughter. My Sissie is hilarious. Anywhere she is, it's usually a party. I used to get annoyed when we'd go places and get stopped 20 times by people who wanted to talk to her, but I've since come to terms with it: she's everybody's favorite, and I get it. It's rare that I spend time with her or talking to her when I don't laugh myself sick, helpless tears streaming down my face. She helps me take my life (and myself) less seriously, and to laugh at the ridiculous I see in every day things.
I've learned to forgive. She has this supple heart with a seemingly unlimited capacity for forgiveness. People who I would've written off years ago, she gives the benefit of the doubt--not just once, but over and over again. I've been on the receiving end more times than I'm proud of, but feel so relieved and lucky each time she lets me off the hook for whatever idiot thing I said or did.
I've learned to pay attention. It's the quiet ones you've gotta watch out for. It took a while for me to catch on, but I know now that she holds all of her pain in her eyes. It's easy to miss it if you get distracted by her humor, her bustle, and her smile, so you've got to watch her closely. I haven't always been very careful with the feelings of others, but learning how to treat her gently and well makes me better.
I've learned to show up for those I love, no matter what. My Sissie is ride-or-die, and not just when it's convenient for her. She's been there for me for every success, failure, and loss. When my heart was broken, she drove 2 hours in the middle of the night to sleep in my bed with me, so I wouldn't be alone. After she went back home, I slept on her side of the bed for days, comforted by her scent that she'd left on the pillow. When my (our) baby boy was born too early and I was so sick in the hospital, she drove that same 2 hours every day for three days to sleep at the foot of my bed, until he was born and she knew we would both be okay. The magnesium sulfate they gave me to keep me from having a stroke had me so blissed out of my mind that I don't remember much of that week in 2011, but her presence I remember very clearly.
I'll always be there for her, not just because she's always been there for me, but because she deserves to feel as loved and as grounded as she's made me feel all these years. No matter how many pairs of my socks she still has.
Happy birthday, Sissie. Here's to another year. Love you!!! xoxo
My Sissie and Me--she's the one with the eyes. 

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