Happy Birthday, Penelope

My sister is having a big birthday today. It is funny when you think back to when you were a kid, milestone birthdays really mattered. When you turned 16, 18, 21, 30, 40. They do matter, and maybe they always will, but sometimes life just happens and a birthday is just another day. Maybe I feel that way because growing up birthdays and holidays were often a non-event in my life. Real life shit was happening and was often way more important than getting one year older. Due to that fact, I do not put much stock in Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and many other holidays. Often I think we wait for these Hallmark holidays and take those moments to spend time with our family, buy them gifts, or even to pay attention to them. Rather than wait for those dates on the calendar, why not make them important all the rest of the days of the year?

I digress. It is my sister’s birthday. I told you all that back story to say that while she might have too much happening in her life to worry about her birthday I want to share what she means to me.

We have been through a lot together. I will not go into detail, but we had to grow up early and fast, and that does something to a person. My sister spent her teens taking care of me and my mother, and holding my father up in life. She spent a good part of high school never sleeping through the night because my mother needed her (and I was too heavy a sleeper to know otherwise). In so many ways she was a mother before she left high school without ever giving birth. There were times during that period when we fought horribly with each other. Each trying to find our own place in a world where the adults in our life were dropping like flies. Both badly just wanting to be loved, to be held, and to know that somehow everything would turn out okay. That we would be okay. No one was there to tell us that, we only had each other.

As each adult we took care of passed away and our own adult lives began to take shape, I watched my sister become a child again (in a good way). She adventured down many different life courses learning and charting her way. Sometimes creative, others financial, and others to find the stability we did not have for many years. She continues down that path, always curious for a new and engaging endeavor, never willing to stay in something that did not nourish her soul. In addition to all her travels and professional explorations, she has explored writing personally and professionally, taught herself how to cook (we did not learn from our mother, and I still have not learned), and now she has paved the way into motherhood.

I have loved watching her this past year as a new mother. I see that she wants 100 times more for Charlie than she ever had (and I want that for Charlie too). While she is a quiet, gentle mother she is also a rock for her. In some ways I see my mom’s quiet strength come through, always wanting to teach us and understand the context behind something. I know that she will always encourage Charlie to try new adventures, be okay with her being as Punky Brewster as she wants, while also being sure she knows she is loved. As our lives have ebbed and flowed from childhood through college to adulthood, Charlie has helped to bring my sister and I even closer and make our sisterhood even stronger. Wanting to protect a little one makes love fierce and strong, and reminds you of all you already have in life.

Happy Birthday, Penelope.  You are loved, everything will be okay, and I am always here.

My niece is da bomb.

I just spent the weekend with my niece, Charlie (nickname for Charlise). I am utterly addicted to her. She has not even been gone for 24 hours and I miss her so much. What is it about little munchkins that make our hearts yearn for them?

My sister and I had a conversation during our last visit over a month ago, about being connected to children in ways that our parents were not connected to us. Part of that is about paying attention to their wants, needs and being present. I know it is a different era, but I grew up in one (of which I have said often) where my father felt that children should be seen and not heard. Maybe I was grossly offended by this, tainted, what have you, but I am definitely not going to have my kid(s) nor my niece(s), nephew feel that they should not be heard. Their voice matters. I watch the deep love my sister has for Charlie. It is so clear that Charlie is so loved. My sister does not complain, you can see her yearn for her time with Charlie, it is as if she knows so deeply that this precious time will not last, and she is going to make sure Charlie has a different childhood than she had.

Our childhood story is bigger than just not being heard. My mom had an at home day care when I was very young, and yet I do not remember her ever being (that I can remember) the touchy, hugger, cuddler type. My dad became more of a hugger once I was in college. My grandma was even less of a hugger. So, maybe that was why my mom was not much for cuddles. Fast forward to my sister and me. Before Charlie we were not really that into hugging. Yet, with Chris I am a hard-core hugger. I need my daily…well multiple times a day hugs from him. I love hugs. I want to start my day with one, I want to end my day with one. I would take a deep intense hug over a kiss any day. I strongly believe that somehow Charlie has made my sister and me connect on a deeper level. Almost like Charlie has broken the years of non-hugging brought about by my childhood family. Thank you, Charlie!

I wonder, do we give our kids what we never had? Did my sister and I crave that kind of connection and family that she is now giving Charlie? I love Charlie with a depth and yet I have only seen her a total of three weekends. Where does that come from? Where does that love so deep and so extensive show up and we know we are never the same without this precious munchkin in our world? We want to make them laugh and giggle. We want to cuddle, snuggle, and never forget their smell.

Like I said. My niece is da bomb.

Which doors to open…

It has been a while since I have written about a book I have read. Two reasons: I have not had the time to read as many books lately, and I have not read as many books that have inspired me. However, over Thanksgiving I read a novel that I could not put down. It is called: “The Time Between” by Karen White. I am not even sure where to start in explaining this complex storyline.

It is about two sisters (Eve and Eleanor), their stories of loss, anger, longing, and forgiveness. One is in a wheelchair, and the other does everything she can to take care of her sister. She works long hours in an investment banking firm, plays the piano at night to bring in more money. The other sister sews gowns in her wheelchair. Such pieces she herself would have worn in past beauty pageants. Music is weaved throughout the story, second chances, and the beauty of an island. Of course there is so, so, so much more to the story, but I do not want to ruin it for you. There is one line near the end of the book that I had to share with you:

“There is how we were before, and how we are now, and the time between is spent choosing which doors to open, and which to close.” page 319

I thought this was the perfect morsel of insight from the book. White discusses this in different ways throughout the book. She is right. So often we are stuck in how we were before, that we cannot be okay with where we are now. As White alludes to throughout the book, there are many doors to which we can open or close and the choice is 99% ours to make. Do we forgive someone and move on, or do we stay stuck in what they have done to us? Can we get over the one that did not choose to love us, so that we can be present and ready for the one that we will love so deeply? Such good ideas for really anyone. Even with the sisterhood theme, it did not feel like chick lit to me. Just a great novel, and really I can see it made into a movie.

Open a new door. Take a few hours to read “The Time Between.” It is worth it.