My sister – I mean my WONDERFUL sister – has been after me to post something great about her for my following of all of you – I mean my following of my sister and maybe my mom. I’ve been thinking about it and I realized where her infinite wisdom lies. Months ago, in the back and forth banter between two sisters living states apart, we share the day to day with each other as usual; her with the trials and tribulations of infancy through first grade, and me on the other end venting about the demands of intermediate elementary school and the battles of a teenager. I didn’t mention that she is my younger sister, and while I always think that I have something to tell her that will enlighten her and change the way she is raising her children – “try Motrin instead of Tylenol, it breaks fevers faster…, have them wear undershirts…, it’s okay for them not to apologize to me…, they need a bit of sugar…” she surprises me. Next to my own children, there are no others who can make my heart swell into the tiny cavity of my throat making me swallow to push it back down like my nieces and nephews. They are the most precious things and my sister does such a good job with them it sometimes makes me want to relive it all again with my own from what I’ve learned from her. The happiness of my nephew laughing in a momentary snapshot – yet every time I look at it on my desk I am back – years ago when it was taken and feel the same immense joy that the picture captured – the sweetness of my niece asking to tell me a secret on New Year’s Eve, way past her bedtime and into roasting S’mores in the fireplace – me bending down to her tiny cupped hand for her to whisper “Thank you for my outfit.” as she sparkles with silver sequins – the delight I felt in holding my other surprise nephew, after I thought there’d be only two, following a long day at work and heading straight to North Carolina to meet him for the first time.
There are conversations where my sister tells me something that sticks. I can’t remember when she told me – but I can hear her saying it – talking about the challenges of parenting on both of our parts and encouraging me not to be discouraged, “You never know when it will be the last time they_______.” I thought “Yea.” She continued to fill in blanks, “come into your room at night or run in when you’re in the shower…” and I thought, “I’d love the chance to shave my legs without someone needing something and me emerging like a war hero covered in ripped pieces of toilet paper clinging to my damp bloody legs.” I figured she didn’t understand because she was new at having kids interrupt a shower and having to shower in 7 minutes or less before chaos would break out in the household must never have existed among my compliant, obedient niece and nephews. Until weeks had passed, it was a Saturday morning. It is always my Saturday morning ritual to scrub the shower glass with a handled brush containing blue Dawn and vinegar in between the cleaning lady’s visit to keep it ‘pristine magazine clean’ as I always tell the kids when they protest about cleaning their rooms. I washed the glass, took a shower, was shaving my legs and I realized – nobody has interrupted me. When was the last time someone interrupted me in the shower? How could they let me stay in the shower this long and never need me? I emailed the words I had to tell my sister because I am too chicken to ever say them because it’d break my heart – she was right – it doesn’t matter if they burst into the bathroom – be glad they are there and still need you. Then I started to cry.
I cried to my kids asking them how they could let me take a shower without interrupting me? and didn’t they need anything? They looked at me puzzled and made me feel like I’d lost my marbles. My sister came to my mind. She was absolutely right. You never know when the last time will be when there is a question that is so important that it can’t wait until you get out of the shower to be asked. My younger sister had given me one of the best pieces of advice I will ever get. It washes over me – especially when I feel like I need to get something done – I remember – take the time because one day they will grow. Tonight is one of those nights. I ate a broiled salmon on top of an arugula salad and nobody complained about what was for dinner. I cut hundreds scraps from magazines I’d collected over the years of ideas planned for future projects and pasted them onto thick white paper tucked inside plastic display sleeves. My son is at the second sleep away of his life because I can’t bear the thought of not having him sleeping down the hallway, my daughter is asleep in her bed, and my husband is watching TV. The dishwasher is running, the house is dark and quiet, my legs are shaved smooth after a long hot shower, and I think of my sister – the dearest one to me in all the world because she is caring for part of my heart in her three babies – telling me to take each day as it comes and rejoice in the highs and lows with my own because you never know and it goes too fast.