Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Golden Thread

"A sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit, a golden thread to the meaning of life."  
~Isadora James

I remember very clearly my parents taking my brother (aged 9) and me (aged 11) aside and sitting us down.  They told us they had something big to tell us and that we had 20 questions to figure it out.  My brother, Brian, and I were desperate for a dog so we narrowed our questions down in this way:

1) Was it alive? Yes.     (check, excellent...keep going.)
2) Was it breathing? Yes.  (check, really move.)
3) Did it have fur? Sort of.  (huh? what?  what does that mean?)
4) (excitedly, jumping out of chairs, up and down) Is it a dog?
   No.  It's a baby!

Our reaction couldn't have been more classic.  Together, Brian and I ran screaming from the room.  Crying. Sobbing. Heart-broken.
A baby???  Why?  Who wants a baby?

It took several long months to choke down the idea of  an anchor a cute baby and wrap our heads around the concept that someone tiny was coming to stay.

My mom's due date was March 2nd, 1976.  I was in 6th grade, my brother in 3rd.  I waited and waited mostly in competition with my brother.  Who was going to get the match?  He was convinced it was a boy.  I was hoping for a sister.  Not for any glorious, noble,  or kind reason.  No, my hopes were based solely on the idea that I would beat my brother.

March 2nd came and went but on March 5th I woke up to my dad telling me I would have to make my own lunch, my mom had had the baby and it was -- a GIRL!!! 
I won.

I had no idea what I had won.  No clue that this baby would be a lifeline for me, a joy like no other, a precious, precious sister.

My sister is 11 years younger than me.  To an outsider that might seem like a huge distance.  It might be questionable that we would even interact or have a relationship. But ever since that little pink bundle came through the doors of our house she's had a piece of me.

Her room was next door to mine and my parents' room was upstairs so it was natural that any late night scary dream would come my way.  Mary Claire would routinely slide into my bed in the middle of the night and I would just roll over and let her in. She cuddled on my lap as I sobbed through Love Story and at the perfect moment peed on it.  It's a testament to just how smitten I was by that little cherub that all I could think to do was laugh out loud, let us both be wet and continue crying until the movie's tragic end.

She was my baby.  I dressed her up, braided her hair or curled her pigtails and paraded around town with her.  I cried heaving mother's sobs at her college graduation and watched in astonishment as she became a talented teacher, a mindful wife and the most amazing mother around.  Whenever I confided in her, she surprised me with her often funny, keep-it-real, astute observations.  She's smart, this little sister of mine.  She's hilarious.  She's irreverent and honest.  Best of all, she's always on my side.

I will never, ever forget the countless acts of grace that have accompanied her love.  She came to my house as I braced myself for Patrick's open heart surgery and lotioned my feet and painted my toes.  She couldn't fix Patrick's heart but she sure could work on mine.  

She sat on the other end of the phone as I sobbed and wondered out loud how I could allow poisons to course through Patrick's body in the name of healing after his leukemia diagnosis.  How was I going to tell my bigger kids?  How could I possibly do this? Somehow she could be calm and make sense of things that made no sense to me.

Together we were silent on the phone in wonderment that our worlds were going to collide: in 2006 we were both pregnant...found out on the same day...and all we could do was be stunned.  I was convinced that I would miscarry at my ripe old age but miraculously the universe conspired to have my last baby and her first baby born four weeks to the day apart.  Our girls share the same middle name, Claire, after our mom Linda Claire.  They are stunning and amazing and connected in a cosmic way, the very best of friends.  

Caroline Claire and Elizabeth Claire

Like some sort of sustenance, Caroline can only go a few weeks without requesting Lizzy's physical presence.  Thankfully, Lizzy only lives about an hour and a half away. So, when it gets bad, we meet halfway or find a way to get together.  Seeing them together is magical.  They are like two brightly colored legoes...they just fit.  There is never any catch up time.  Never any real discord.  Both of these big personalities can somehow take a backseat when needed.  They compromise, share and find a way to balance things in a remarkable way.

Five years into this journey and still I can't believe I get to share it with my sister.  

I am so grateful for my sister.  Grateful for her wisdom. For her love.  For her ability to make me laugh second only to my little brother, Brian, and John.  Grateful for her unabashed love for my kids and her care and kindness in the moments when I couldn't even breathe let alone think straight.  She is the gift that keeps on giving and I know it.

If you have a sister...get out there and love her.  Crap happens.  Bad words or actions might be said.  Mistakes made.  It doesn't matter. The universe wrapped up a package and sent it your way. Find a way to remove the wrapping and treasure it.  Trust me, I do.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Waterfall of Blessings

  "That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet." 
                                                                 -- Emily Dickinson

Some days it just feels like a waterfall flowing...a series of blessings from the very first moment of the day until the very last minute when sleep makes its steady way and releases you from that leash of conscious thought.  Today was one of those precious, precious days.  I slept deeply and soundly last night -- such a gift -- and I woke up to my sweet five year old running up to my bed with a work of art:

Caroline and I having a picnic!

For some reason, this picture with our smiling faces, the checkered picnic blanket, the grapes in the basket and our names for all to know and remember touched my heart deeply.  I know that the era of hourly "I Love You" pictures will someday come to an will be slow like a dripping faucet but it will surely stop, and I'll pause one day cooking dinner or finding a marker without a lid and realize that it has been a few months since I last had a picture drawn for me and I'll know that sweet time of emerging literacy rolled up in a cinnamon topping of pure love and adoration has shifted yet again ever so slightly.  I'll have a more mature artist or a die-hard lego girl or (heaven, please!) a voracious reader and away we will go down that new path.  So today, I cherish my Picnic Picture.

An hour or two later I had the delicious gift of reading our Sunday paper leisurely, getting a hot shower and beginning the process of herding the crew to church. Some Sundays this is a downright chore but today it happened rather easily and we all walked down in the sunshine to gather with our faith community.  Our delightful priest, Father Richard, finally explained poor Job's long and difficult journey and wove a tale linking all of us together.  Like the person who breathes deeply onto the burning embers and gives them a sudden burst of fuel, Father Richard gave me a ray of understanding and compassion and I looked at the people next to me in a new way.  He reminded us that we all will have our own Job moments and will believe with our whole hearts "I shall never know happiness again" only to be surprised much further down the road, that happiness has once again shown herself to be on our doorstep waiting and ready for our shared joy.

After church, I laughed in the winter sunshine with friends outside of church.  I introduced two great ladies to each other and enjoyed the energy of new connections, funny stories, and kids all around. 

I came home and folded a boat load of laundry to the tunes of High School Musical and watched my husband prepare his yearly Superbowl feast. We watched the game.  We critiqued the half-time show.  We hung out together -- simply and comfortably -- just enjoying time together.

Later, as the game was winding down, Caroline asked to go for a bike ride.  She thought she was ready to take her training wheels off and instead of thinking it through, I just got out the wrench and took them off.  We walked the bike down to our street and I held her handlebar.  I have done this before.  I know what this looks like.  For some kids, it's a start and stop process but for Caroline I knew it would take only a minute or two and she would find her balance and ride easily.  Her body works like that: strong, coordinated, quick.  After watching Patrick take (and I'm not exaggerating) years to learn this skill, I wrestled with which is sweeter: watching Patrick finally learn after such a long time or seeing the miracle of putting a complex skill together so effortlessly.  I surprised myself by calling it a draw.  Neither is is simply the journey each of us is on...our own path.  Each path is beautiful. Every step a blessing.  The ease of our journey doesn't make it better.  We will all have Job moments. Caroline's wasn't today.

We came in exhilarated and excited...triumphant and smiling.  I gave Caroline a bath, listened to Patrick sing in the shower and came out to a delicious dinner John had made.  I looked at my (mostly) full table and felt that waterfall of gratitude and love that had baptized me in the morning.  We were together and that's all that mattered. 

I read stories to Caroline and snuggled her into bed.  Kissed a sleepy Patrick goodnight.  I talked to Mary Kate about lacrosse try-outs and got to Skype with Jack and catch up with college life for him.  I made some lunches.  I wrote a blog.  I say good-bye to this beautiful day with a full heart.  I still have chores to do, messes to clean up, clothes to put away and one lost cell phone I'd love to relocate.  Who cares?  I wish I could hold this feeling of wonder and treasure all night...I'm praying I can.  Sweet dreams.