9.13.2009

Two sisters, One pair of pants


A few weeks ago I had to fill out a little survey about myself for church. I spend time each Sunday attempting to open up the exciting world of Christian spirituality to a group of fourth and fifth graders, who as far as I can tell, are concerned primarily with
a. telling me what they did the previous week,
b. asking me if I brought treats, and
c. requesting permission to use restroom during class. (In that order.)

Each week during the children's Sunday School, also referred to (by me) as "The Show", there is singing and storytelling and lots of adults telling the kids to "shhh" and "pay attention" and "this is very interesting actually" and "stop flipping your eyelids inside out - it's gross". Also, (and this is the kids' favorite part of the whole fiasco), there is "The Spotlight". Hence, the aforementioned survey.

Most of the time during The Spotlight we learn a little something about one of the children, but every once in awhile they like to shake it up and feature random facts about one of the adults in the room. What I learned from answering The Spotlight survey questions, which I can only assume were designed to show that I really am cool and interesting and not just old and bossy, is that... I am totally uninteresting. The most exciting things that I could think of about myself were that I like chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and that I work as a labor doula. (If you think that explaining the doula lifestyle to an adult is challenging try the 8-12 year old crowd. I felt like I should've had a signed note from their parents with an explanation letter detailing the course syllabus. In retrospect, I think I should've told them the story about how after we moved my husband couldn't find the case for his contact lenses and so instead put his last pair of contacts in two cups next to the sink. It is his contention that he told me what was in there, but clearly under the impression that they were His and Hers matching drinkware, I apparently downed the entire contents of the "Hers" cup during the night and now he only has half a pair of contacts. Not remotely useful... or so he tells me. Regardless, I'm pretty sure that the 10 year old boys would think that me swallowing a contact lens was very gross and therefore very cool. Oh well.)

One of the other things that I told them was that "I am the oldest of four sisters and that we don't have any brothers." My dad used to joke that even the dog was a girl. Our house was a house open to all the girlie issues. Our father was so comfortable with the girlie issues that sometimes I think he forgot that not all men are so comfortable with the girlie issues. Example: Once he was shopping and needing to stock up on girlie supplies. (Teenage daughters require a lot of supplies.) Unfortunately, stores tend to keep the girlie supplies way up on the top shelf where a man in a wheel chair cannot reach them. Fortunately, my father was met in the hygiene aisle by people that he knew and could ask for help with the reaching of the girlie supplies. Unfortunately, those people were the missionaries from our church. Poor 19 year old boys - retrieving industrial sized boxes of tampons in the name of Christian service.

My mother-in-law was also raised in an all girl house. There were five of them. A couple of weeks ago the youngest of the five died. It made me very sad for her that she had lost one of her sisters. I wondered about what it was like to see someone that you had known in every stage of their life come to the end of theirs. I wondered about what you do when someone that is part of the definition of yourself dies. I think it must be different than a parent dying. You expect that your parents will die before you and although it can be tremendously painful, it seems like a natural progression somehow. I have never lost one of my children (thankfully), but I think it must be different than that as well. When I think of my sisters dying I picture that scene from Back To the Future where all of Michael J. Fox's siblings just sort of fade from the family photo and then he starts to fade out too. I think it must be something like that. Fading.

I started to think about my sisters and what the death of any of them would mean to me. When I was a little girl, the only nightmares I can remember having involved something happening to my sister K. (mostly someone taking her and me not being able to stop them. Hmmm.) She is 17 months younger than I am and I don't think that I have a memory in my life where she is not in it. After she was married, she moved away from me for a short period of time. I remember watching her drive off down the road and I was sobbing and crying like those women in the Middle East that you see on the news after a road side bombing. I laid down on the couch and cried for so long, that the back of my head hurt. To me, we seemed very far apart, but eventually, she came back home.

I have to admit as well, that I was a little bit stunned when I realized that I was thinking in terms of "what I would do" when really, eventually, it will be "what I will do". We joke all the time about what we will be like when we are old, and our husbands are dead, and none of us can remember anything- except that there's something important that we really need to remember. Here's what we've never talked about though- eventually, one of us, and then another of us, and then another of us will die. Eventually, one of us will be the last sister to have said goodbye to all of her other sisters... the last one that remembers our childhood homes, and our father's smile when he was young and our mother singing "Oh Holy Night" at Christmas... and then she will be... sisterless and sort of alone. I do not want to be the last sister, but I also don't want any of my other sisters to be the last sister either. (I'm pretty sure that it will hurt a lot, and I'm not such a big fan of pain. ) I'm not sure what to do about that. It seems like a problem that doesn't really have a good answer. (ps - my mother's convinced that she is going to outlast all of us, so maybe that's the solution. Poor Mom.)

The other thing that bothers me about this whole sister thing, is that I'm about to give birth. To a boy. My third boy. My last baby (and I am totally serious about that.) This means that my daughter will never have a sister of her own. I have tried to spin this as a positive thing, but really it's just a big fat lie. It's lame that she will never have a sister - and no matter how I try to help build excitement about the prospect of holding her third brother, who is due to arrive any day (or week knowing me), she knows it's lame. The birth of her brother will be the death of her chances at a sister, and even though I know that she loves her brothers, and that she is very blessed to have female cousins that help fill the void... she is sisterless and sort of alone.

Getting ready to give birth to my baby and the death of my mother-in-law's sister has made me think about all the changes that come with shifting a family, and about how those changes are very much the same, whether you're coming or going. Birth and Death are indeed the sisters of life. They look very much alike and sound very much alike. They both have a rhythm and a pattern and tears and suffering and blood and exhaustion and relief. They both have a job, and the job is to help someone change places from where they were to where they are going. To shift a family. One is the first page. One is the last. One is the winding up. One is the winding down. They cannot be separated from each other. The one helps to define the other. To give her boundaries. To give her purpose. No matter how many times we experience them and feel them and act apart of them, like true sisters - even when they seem very far apart, they always come back home. These are two that will never be sisterless - and I guess once you've had a sister, you will never, ever be truly sisterless either.
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8 comments:

Nika, Travis, Ayda and Zander said...

That was a very nice post, made me cry. I don't want to be the last sister, I say we put it to a vote and maybe the most bossy should be last (any ideas of who that would be?!?).

The Laundry Queen said...

Love this. Good luck this week. Or next. ; )

grammy said...

I have said it before and I will say it again--your dad got the early call and I am pretty sure my work won't be complete for another 50 or so years.That is the good news for all of the sisters. The bad news is, based on genetics, I won't know who you are or who I am for that matter, but I will be here! There will be a little comfort in that. P.S. don't do posts that make me cry!

Carter Family said...

Very thought provoking En... normally I am laughing hysterically... now I'm all teary eyed and reminiscing. Good luck with the delivery of your 3rd boy... hope your 3rd boy is not like my 3rd boy... he's a little terror! :)

Jessie said...

While I will never say that I didn't want a sister, life has been pretty good. I have three wonderful brothers that I've been close to at different times. Plus, as I've gotten older I have gained amazing sisters-in-law. My mom—who only has brothers—feels the same way. Another great thing: I have my mom, and you're daughter has you.

Marvelous Me said...

I think I started crying at the his and hers drinking cups, and haven't stopped. As the fourth girl of four, this is something I think about too. A lot. My heart goes out to your dear mother in law. And your girl.

Marvelous Me said...

...Your girl because having sisters has been one of my greatest gifts.

MTGrace said...

As one who's been there, Endre, I can tell you losing your sister sucks. Being the last one around sucks. Knowing that when I'm 80 years old and babbling to myself "Give me a spoon right now please! Nicely!" my children will quietly have me hospitalized when Julia would have laughed and shared in the family joke with me - also sucks.

But you survive. And our sisters are there to watch over us and communicate with us - even from the next life. And we can still laugh together. I can tell you from experience that she thinks it's hysterical that I married a man who's her type and not mine. I could even hear her laughing. :)