Thursday, March 11, 2010

In The (Sister) Hood

I have a sister-in-law. Actually, I have three. Two I've inheritated through my brothers and one I gained when I married her brother. Recently, I sent out a call to action for my family members. Could they all help me out with a new project I am working on? Almost immediately my one sister-in-law answered my plea. I was pleased and touched for a couple of reasons. She could have ignored me. We live thousands of miles apart and she wouldn't have to face me over awkward family dinners any time soon. But she's there for me when I need her.

Families are hard units to break into and I didn't make it easy on her. She was the first in-law I'd ever experienced. Much like a new parent with their first baby I waded into uncharted territory thinking I knew how it would go. I was wrong. I got some things right. More often than not, I got it all wrong. I try learn from my mistakes. I hope the two that came later benefit from this.

She shares the same first name with me. When my brother's proposal was accepted she took over the last name, too. I remember my mom telling me that with the both of us sharing the same name no one would be able to tell who was who.
"We need something new to call you", my mom said.
I was immediately resentful. At 15 years old I was reasonably sure that the world revolved around only me. It was my name first. We could just keep calling her by her maiden name. I didn't care that she took on our name. I only cared that she moved my brother out of my childhood, even as I was trying to escape it myself. He was my childish idol, my big brother. And while I was grateful when his bigger, better bedroom passed down to me, I didn't want to be left behind.

More than two decades have passed. We've shared holidays, meals, vacations, laughter and tears. We've battled royally and gotten past it. We've bonded over raquetball games, buying bread at the grocery strore and the love we share for the same three people. I'm proud of those two boys she and my brother have raised.
Recently, she did something special for my own boy. It was during a trip to an amusement park. I, on my ever loving quest to save a buck, was intent on denying my son all kinds of pleasures.
"Why should we pay five bucks to race remote control cars, when you can do it for free at home?", I asked.
"Those games are a rip off. Keep moving." I barked every few minutes.
She forked the money out all afternoon long for him. She shot water out of her gun and sent her stuffed animal to the top more times than I could count. She raced him at cars. She let the man guess her age within everyone's hearing. She kept up a steady stream of goofy hats, silly capes and stuffed animals
. In short, she made his day. I never guessed how much until we were back from our trip and I was going through his backpack one day after school. For an assignment he had written a paper about his favorite vacation memory. In childish scrawl there it was. The day his aunt won all the prizes at an amusement park. O.k. he took all the credit for winning the games but the sentiment remains the same. More experienced at motherhood than I, she rescued a wonderful memory that I would have unwittingly destroyed. Best of all, she never even let on what she was doing. She's there for me even when I don't know I need her. That's just the way it is with sisters.

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