Posts from the ‘You Should Read This First’ Category

Time for a little Anli

This is the third post in the You Should Read This First series that I’m doing for my family.  It’s about time–I’ve been trying to get this done since June.  This one is for the best big sister that anyone could ask for (and the one I am attempting to write the book blog with).

1) You are the best shoulder to cry on. When it was hardest with Mom, you were there to understand us both.  When it was just plain hard anyway, you were there to offer a hug and a shoulder and some kleenex.

2) I’m sorry I slapped you.  I STILL remember that handprint on your face–how bright red it was.  I have no idea how to fix that, but I am so sorry.  I should have been better about learning how to navigate our differences.  I should have known that you were just trying to do your best.  I know that now, and I am sorry.

3) Reading in the dark is the best.  One of the few memories of our living in the same room that’s peaceful is reading by the light of the moon.  And keeping an ear out for Mom coming down the hall.  And perfecting pretending to sleep when she did.  (Which, come to think, I don’t think we actually fooled her.  Mom was nice enough to let us have it.)  I hope my children also have the best accomplices they could ask for in their siblings.  Those small rebellions make for close bonds later on.  Also, how in the WORLD did you not end up with glasses after all that?

4) I LOVE having you here again.  And by here, I mean healthier and able to participate in life.  It’s not that you abandoned us or hated us or disappeared in any way, but it feels like I have my sister back after so many years.  And that is completely amazing.  I’m so glad that you found something that could work for you and you have your life again.  I missed you and I missed your life for you.

5) Coast to coast is no fun, but we did it.  That year I was in California and you were in DC, I was ready to throw something.  I HATED not being able to talk to you regularly or for any long time.  And I love that you worked so hard to keep in touch.  Also, the fact that when you were evacuated from your dorm due to some idiot potsmoker one floor up/down, you decided to call me–that was some serious warm fuzzies.  I appreciate all your efforts to stay in touch with me the years we’ve been separated due to school.  I never felt a lack of big sisterly love.

6) You protected me as best you could.  This is true all through my childhood and teenage years.  You were a GREAT older sister.  You did your best to protect me from bullies and ridicule and from losing faith.  It didn’t always work, but you did the very best that could be asked.  But specifically, this is about that babysitter when I was in second grade.  You tried so hard.  I know you did.  And I know that she punished you for trying so hard by forcing you to be an accomplice  to her abuse–she stopped short of making you join in, but I know it was so hard for you to watch or be asked to fetch things for her to hit me with. You were terrified of her along with me.  But when it came time, when I finally couldn’t stand it anymore, you were the one who raced up the stairs after me.  You were the one who put your arms around me and told me I HAD to tell the parents what was going on.  You were the one who told me no one was going to let her get close enough to kill me, or even hurt me ever again.  You were the one who ignored her fear and pain so that the fear and pain of your little sister would stop.  And I know, given the chance in our adult lives, you would continue to protect me if you could.

7)  We will always have letters.  I’m sure Mom has no idea how two of her children that she practically had to pull teeth to get to write thank you notes turned out to love writing letters.   But we did.  That summer you were away was NO FUN, except for the letters.  I still remember when you decided your letter wasn’t long enough and bulked it up with two pages of Cheers quotes. Or the Harry Potter 6 review you sent me.  I love stuff like that and REALLY enjoy re-reading them even now.

8) Chambers was AWESOME.  I came into that choir known as your little sister, which really didn’t hurt my reputation at all.  Having people know who I was and the musical background I came from allowed them to trust me faster.  Also, it was just fun being able to share the songs and adventures and love together.  Even during the bad times, you and I made it fun.

9) Thanks for sharing your friends.  You are incredibly good at this. Your friends were mine in high school and your friends now are sure friends of the family.  You’re just good at bringing your friends into the entire family and I, for one, really appreciate that.

10) I like pockets.  I do.  I really do.   Even better, I like the inside jokes and ridiculous moments and adorable funsies.  That’s what being a sister is all about.

I think it’s your turn, Monkey.

For those of you who don’t know, Monkey is the nickname for the elder of my younger brothers that my sister and I came up with for our book blog.  It’s on hiatus while she gets better and I get less busy, but we have yet to forget about it!  This blog is part of a series that I started a couple weeks ago.  I found there were some things I wanted my mom to know from me and that people should know that I felt that way.  I realized that this blog lacked a good sense of how I feel about my family, and that was a shame, because my family makes up the best of me.  I love them ever so much, and decided that people should know that first and foremost about me.  So, this is the You Should Read This First series, because everyone should know about my family first.

And now, on to Monkey.

1) You’re the reason I love baseball.  Remember when I hated baseball passionately?  That all changed because of you.  One of the reasons I hated baseball was the way you reacted to losing when you were younger.  I hated coming home and dealing with an angry, sulky brother who I already didn’t particularly get along with (because I was pretty angry and sulky myself).  You realized you needed to change, and along the way you taught me to change, too.  You found ways to include your incredibly sports challenged sister in your baseball, and I’m ever so grateful.   Baseball, after we both grew up, became a truly family affair and I am so grateful that that’s something we have every time we’re all home.  And sometimes while at school.  One of my favorite college memories is the night we both stayed up ridiculously late to watch the 19 inning game online and texted each other as cool things happened.  I couldn’t have had that moment with you without you teaching me to love baseball.

2) The reason I’m still writing: you.  Whether it was because of your belief or sheer defiance of your opinions, you’ve been a driving force behind my writing.  There were times when we argued about content and appropriateness and whether it was at all your business, but I’m glad you stayed involved.  Those times that inspired me to write because I was gonna SHOW YOU are not my proudest writing moments, thought they certainly are some of my most memorable.  However, there’s a memory that sticks out far beyond those petty, if raucous, arguments.  It was in my later high school years and I was working on extending a project that I had done for my Lit class Sophomore year.  I was lamenting how much time it would take and how frustratingly slow I was at typing.  I worried that I would never have time to write what I wanted and what I had to for school.  You, with your unwavering faith in my ability and with a desire to see me happy, offered to be my typist.  I warned you that it would be a long endeavor and you said you didn’t care.  When I doubt, when I falter in my writing because it’s just too much to try to be creative, that’s the memory that drives me.  Sometimes it’s all I’ve got, but it’s just what I need.

3) You taught me the importance of a name.  When I decided to go by Joie and not a derivative of my given name, you stopped addressing me by name.  For nearly nine months.  It was your way of reconciling my wishes and your inability to see me as “Joie.”  I appreciate your efforts, but it hurt.  However, it taught me perhaps one of the most important lessons I could have learned: the importance of hearing one’s own name.  I realized, when you stopped saying anything but “Hi” when we talked that I had the same tendency when I got angry at someone.  I would respond in short, generic sentences and I would stubbornly REFUSE to call them by their name.  When you did the same to me, I realized that what I was doing was inappropriate and hurtful.  Now, when one is angry, it’s pretty normal to lash out.  But I realized that my particular brand of lashing out wasn’t just hurtful, it was damaging.   You taught me that, and I like to think I’ve become a better person for it not just when I’m angry, but in general. (Also, that first time you called me “Joie,” you couldn’t see or hear me because it was over IM, but I straight up cried.  It was one of the best feelings in the world, having you call me by name.)

4) You are inspiring.  You’ve always excelled at life.  I envy the clarity and passion with which you attack everything.  You’re awesome.

5) I forgave you for the family therapy session a long time ago.  This is day that I think is burned in our entire family’s mind: that awful family therapy session.  I don’t think I’ve ever come out of another experience feeling so hurt and alone.  I know I treated you badly for months after that, and held onto the resentment of how beat up I felt–especially by you–for long after that.  I should have said something long ago: I don’t feel that way anymore.  I know that you were just doing what the doctor told you to, and I know that the person at fault in that situation was a less than competent psychologist.  I’m sorry for holding you accountable for the actions of a whack-job therapist.

6) Getting to know you while you were half a world away was one of the best experiences of my life.  I don’t think it’s any secret to those who know us that you and I didn’t get along for most of our lives.  We had the occasional joint b-day party and I love those memories BECAUSE those were some of the few times we got along.  So when you went on your mission to Thailand and we had to physically send letters to each other, I got to know you.  And I got to realize how much you loved me.  We built a relationship in those two years that I had no idea we were capable of.  And I’m really glad we are, and that we’ve maintained that level of love in the years you’ve been home.

7) I absolutely adore talking with you now.  This has everything to do with the previous thing.  I got to know you in writing, so learning to talk to you was a whole other adventure.  But now, when we do get to talk in our busy schedules, I’m pretty sure those times are precious.  You changed from the family member I understood the least to the one I trust the most.  I can talk to you about the things I’m scared or ashamed of and somehow you always know how to react.  I don’t know what I’d do without you there for that.

8) I’m terrifically proud of you.  I think back to the boy I grew up with and see the man I know now and am in awe.  You’ve always worked to be the best person you can be with an impressive ability to self-evaluate and that’s done nothing but make you better with each day.  And yet, through all the changes you’ve made with yourself, you’ve managed to stay true to the little boy I grew up with.  I love that.

9) I SO appreciate your black and white mentality.  As you well know, my world is all gray.  Part of that is the Bi-Polar, but part of that is just me.  Your black and white can be infuriating at times, but I need it.  You, by dint of our relationship, can say things that other people cannot.  In general, I need that gray.  Seeing things in black and white, as strange as this sounds, is confusing to me.  So, when I need to see things as black and white, I really appreciate having you around.  Most of our tiffs these days has a lot to do with these differing life perspectives, but I love that we can be so intrinsically different and yet understand each other so well, even help each other understand others a bit better.  I’m not always so good at saying that I appreciate your straightforward perspective at the time, but know that even when you frustrate me, I’m glad of it.

10) I’m glad we have starfish.  I don’t know if you used it or if it’s squirreled away in your room somewhere so that my feelings aren’t hurt, but I’m glad you’re the one who has the starfish journal.  I’m glad we can share that.  I’m glad that we do the small gestures and take the tiny moments to make sure that our individual burdens aren’t overwhelming.  I may not come to you for comfort and solace when I’m struggling, but I do know that you’ll always watch out for me.  I may only get an occasional,” And how are things going?”  But, I know that that question is the product of love and concern and frequent thoughts sent my way.   You’re the brother who got me a hardback copy of The Phantom Tollbooth when you noticed I had read the family paperback copy to bits and pieces.  You always seem to find the quietest of ways to let me know you understand and care.  And yet those whispers, those minute gestures, are some of the loudest memories.  And that’s what starfish means to me.  It means that you’re always there for me, just like I’m always there for you.

Monkey, I love you.  I’m so happy to have you in my family.  I wouldn’t be complete without you.

Hey, Mom! Perhaps it’s time to talk . . .

Okay, so these two articles are kind of awesome.  These women felt like they needed to tell their mothers something and I’m inspired.  I don’t think my mom reads this blog (which is kind of a good thing as I look at the earlier posts), but maybe she’ll read this one.  At least my mom is well and alive to hear these things.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog, my mom and I don’t get along with any sort of regularity.  We’re better than we used to be, and thank goodness for that, but I still don’t understand her most of the time.  Also, I feel like she usually doesn’t understand me.  This is confusing and frustrating for both of us as we BOTH recognize that our personalities are so similar.  But, we’ve taken those personalities and created such different internal people that the similarity of the externals won’t ever be enough.  Reconciling to that isn’t fun.

However, and this is something I’ve also tried to mention with regularity, I LOVE my mother.  She’s smart and funny and really good with people.  She’s also a bit nuts, but that’s a family trait that I got in SPADES, so no judgement (or, at least, I try not to).  She may not understand me, but she loves me and even likes me most days.  That’s something I treasure.  I don’t know a lot of families that can honestly say they’re friends.  Mine can, and a lot of that can be credited to the woman who raised my siblings and me.

So here are the things I want to say to my mother, somehow there’s never a right time to say them and writing’s easier for me anyway.

1) I have learned what it is to be a mother from you.  Do you remember that time I was asked to speak in church on Mother’s Day about what I had learned from my mother about family and life?  I do and can hardly doubt that you do.  I remember the look on your face when I said, in front of the entire congregation no less, that I couldn’t think of anything I had learned.  And that was true!  It was not true, however, because you had failed to teach me, but because I had willfully refused to learn.  What impresses me most about this memory, however, is that there were no recriminations later or long talks about how inappropriate it had been (I should have refused the assignment, not publicly announced that my mother was inadequate (because that is what I said, if not in so many words)).  You kept loving me and included me in the Mother’s Day celebrations.  I know that must have been difficult, and I look back on that day with no small amount of shame.  I am sorry, yes, but more determined than ever to learn from your example.  My future children will have a much better mother for your actions that day.

2) We’re doing so much better.  Remember that time that I told Dad, and then you, that if we kept going the way we were, we’d be estranged within five years?  Dad wasn’t happy I said something like that, but you agreed that it was probably true.  Regardless of the fact that it was true on that day, it isn’t any more.  Like I said, I still don’t understand you very much and every time I think we’ve finally found a relationship that works we manage to somehow hurt each other one more time, but that path we were heading down for so long has disappeared into the distance.  Our horizon is beautiful now, even with all the pitfalls that are on the way.

3) I’m so glad you took me out of Girl Scouts.  For two very different reasons, in fact.  First, for the intended reason: actions have consequences, especially the actions I can’t always control.  We didn’t know it at the time, but my egregious behavior in 4th grade was directly due to my Bi-Polar (the  fact that you put up with it for three more years without even knowing what it was astounds me, by the way).  You took me out of girl scouts as a punishment and, despite the fact that I had less of a clue as to what was going on as you did, it helped.  I can’t always control those visceral reactions, but I do need to work harder to control and temper them.  I am responsible for me, even if me isn’t so wonderful sometimes.  The second reason comes from years of experiencing the dichotomy of what society says a girl should be and who I am: I would have been miserable.  It wasn’t long before I saw that incident as one of the biggest favors you and Dad did for me and not as the punishment it had been, however briefly.  Girl Scouts does a lot of good for a lot of people.  I would not have been one of those people.

4) Sometimes, I’m still scared to talk to you, but I’ll always come to you eventually.  And thank you for giving me the time that I need to come to you.

5) Dad is my best friend.  YOU are my MOM.  I know it bugs you sometimes–more than you let on–that I’m on better terms with Dad than with you.  I know it’s hard that my first instinct is to call him rather than call you.  But you are my MOM.  There is so much that only you can give me, long term things.  Dad, as wonderful as he is, is the day-to-day guy.  And, while he is still the parent while being my best friend, that relationship is much more relaxed.  When I need to calm down, he’s the one I go to.  When I need structure–which is more often than you might realize–it’s you I turn to.  I’m thrilled to be friends with Dad, but I’m equally thrilled to have the stability you provide as a Mom.  I need both, desperately.

6) Cats was amazing.  Remember that birthday gift?  I do.  Dad had always been the one that did the theatre-y stuff, but I remember truly feeling the awe of live theatre for the first time with you.  At Cats, of all musicals (don’t get me wrong, it’s a great show . . . but by no means the GREATEST).  Sure, Dad laid a good foundation, but you’re the one who raised the building on it.

7) You’re the one who taught me to love reading.  I am living breathing proof that you are one of the most talented teachers on the face of the planet.  You managed to foster a love of reading in me that you yourself did not have. I know you like to read, but the passion that I was blessed with is not something you have.  However, it took me years to realize this.  I grew up thinking that BOTH you and Dad were as in love with reading and stories and books as I was. Thank you for not disabusing me of that notion until I was old enough to understand.  When it mattered, you took the seeds of that love, which I inherited from my father, and coaxed them into the bloom they are now.

8) Softie is forever.  Thank you.  Sure, my need for a softie is pretty much the longest living security blanket ever, but you let me have it.  Even when it was long past the time that I should need a security blanket, if I called needing a new one, you would make the run to the store and get it for me.  I hope I am as understanding with my children when I see them get too attached to something.

9) Ignore the flinching.  I have not liked to be touched unsolicited since I was a kid–you have provided plenty of anecdotal proof of this, even if I didn’t have plenty of years of experiences that I remember.  But, you’re my mommy and if you feel so compelled, go ahead and run your fingers through my hair or rub my shoulders.  It’ll be okay.  Just ignore the flinching, which fades after a pat or two.

10) The mistakes you’ve made aren’t that bad, really. No one is perfect.  This includes me.  This includes you.  But I can’t think of a single mistake you made that has permanently damaged me or even come close.  It took a lot of mistakes on both sides to get the the point where estrangement wasn’t that far off, but it took a lot more right choices to get us to where we are now.  And, in some ways, your mistakes were the right choices, because they taught me how to react and recover.  You weren’t ashamed of making mistakes and, while I am still learning that skill, you have taught me that mistakes are there to be made and to learn from.  And that I can do nothing about it, so I might as well stop freaking out.

I love you, Momma.

(I think I’m going to make a series out of this and do one for every member of my immediate family.  Mostly because I want them to know, but also those people in my small corner of the web should know.  For all my occasional complaints and frustrations–which I try to keep to a minimum here, as it’s not the appropriate forum–these are my friends, as well as my family.  If the strangers who find this blog know nothing else, it will be that I love my family, warts and all.)