As we drive home the sky turns magenta right in front of us; Daylight Savings Time is coming to a close, just as autumn is. Though winter doesn’t officially start until December 21st (SHL’s birthday, as a matter of fact), it is November 5th and we are getting ready to turn the clocks back and all of a sudden it starts to feel “winterish” to me. It’s as if the air changes overnight. I can smell the cold weather coming, and as I slide into the car with just a linen jacket and sweatshirt I feel a chill go through my body and wonder (curiously and bitterly) where my winter coat is hiding at home. Probably lurking in some extra closet in the house, just waiting for its turn to be worn again.
A few days before:
I arrive where it’s warm (or supposed to be), albeit it a bit rainy. M and I have flown in from Miami and Boston, respectively, and stand in the driveway of our best friends house in Austin, eagerly awaiting her husband to go in and ask her to come out to get something from the car. She appears, shuffling her feet tiredly, looking down at the ground. Never in a million years does she think that we will be there when she looks up.
But there we are.
We could sense, as best friends, that she needed us. Also her birthday is approaching. We agree that she is the kind of person who is always taking care of others, especially her husband and three little kids. But even her friends and parents and extended family and probably even people that she has just met (that’s kind of her way).
This time, we want to take care of her.
It doesn’t work out like that exactly, because of course she still goes into taking-care -of-mode and cooks for us, making us the pumpkin coffee that we like in the mornings and setting up toppings for tacos for dinner at night, but M and I do our best to take care of her, too.
Mostly we talk and laugh. Sometimes we get teary-eyed. We lift each other up. We listen. We support. We give ideas, and sometimes advice. Sometimes we just say to each other, “That is really hard.” M points out that although we all have different challenges in life (career, family, health), we are all at a point in our lives where we’re trying to take better care of ourselves, trying to find purpose and meaning, and trying to find that balance that seems, most of the time, almost unattainable.
We remind each other of the things that we cannot seem to see in ourselves.
My heart almost bursts open with love not just for A and M, but for A’s family too. It was what I had hoped it would be when we left college and started lives outside of each other: That her husband likes me, that I like him, that her kids know who I am. Though I had imagined us vacationing together, renting a house on the beach somewhere every summer for a week in August, all of our kids running around together and feeling like they were cousins or best friends, I realize that the vision has had to change. A vacations with other families, and I give these kids no “cousins.” But whoever said that you can mother in lots of different ways, I realize with relief, was right. The kids call us Marla Auntie and Sam Auntie and we steal glances and chuckle with love every time they do something adorable (so basically most of the time that we’re together). We keep the kids company while one has a piano lesson, building towers of Legos, or playing 20 questions (the little one doesn’t yet understand the concept and just tells us what she’s thinking of immediately. “Cheetah!” she yells out, so happy with herself, and even her big brother just has to laugh).
We go to the kids elementary school and get to see little D accept an award at school for “fairness,” for listening and including others in his play so well and for not just “playing by the rules,” but most importantly, “with his heart.” The night before he tells me that he’s shy about receiving this award in front of the whole school and so we practice, me pretending to hand him the award and him smiling and saying thank you. He is off-the-charts excited that the Principal who is giving him the award may say his last name wrong, in which case he would get a dollar! He asks me to snuggle with him in his car bed and I just can’t get enough of his questions for me: Sam Auntie, did you have assemblies when you were a kid? I tell him about what I remember from my elementary and middle school days, the poem that my friend and I acted out (what was the scenery like he asks? Such awesome questions), and the play that I was in in the 6th grade. I tell him that I was Smee in Peter Pan, “Captain Hook’s right-hand man.” I forget that he’s only 5. A few minutes later he asks, “Sam Auntie, who was the left hand?”
He reminds me that I can love and listen without being an actual biological mother. I love those kids so much and just want to continue seeing these little magical beings blossoming. A and her husband are doing such an amazing job with their family, I am in awe.
We celebrate A’s birthday with chicken nuggets for the kids and pumpkin ice cream with Bailey’s for us. (!) We shop (what we do best) and we reminisce about our shopping escapades, even back in college (some things never change, and that is comforting). But of course there’s so much more to each of us and so much more to our relationships: We fill each other in on more details than we often can over the phone, in text or email. The real nitty-gritty. Our visits bring us closer, if that is even possible.
We put a candle in the ice cream and I hope that A makes a wish about herself this year. I hope that even in the sacred moments of each day when she is taking care of others, thinking about others, doing for others, that she can find it within herself to see what I see when I look at her: A sensitive, compassionate, loyal, thoughtful, smart being. She deserves so much happiness! She’s the kind of person who can have meaningful conversations with a homeless man on the street or the CEO of a huge corporation. She can cook a delicious meal with her eyes closed and throw a party like it’s nobody’s business. She listens to my fears about cancer and life and she weeps with me knowing that I can’t have children, in a way that only a sister truly can, and then helps me to get back up and want to dig back into life again. She gives me advice on my writing and speaking dreams and how does she know these things? She’s so wise. She always has been.
I remember the first time we met; her Pet Shop Boys poster proudly displayed in her dorm room, me showing her where to get her college ID, my Mom’s chocolate chip cookies and us rushing together and then ending up in different sorority houses (we each became honorary members of each others sororities because we were always together), and neither of us ever guessing that 21 years later we would be here. Family. Love. Life. Fear. Adventures. Traveling. Challenges. Cancer. Marriage. Houses. Friends. Sisters.
You can’t change things for others, but you can remind them of who they are at their core. I hold that hope for her dreams even when she can’t hold them for herself (we all need somebody to hold our hope for us sometimes. She has done it for me countless times). Yes, you can’t change things for others, but you can remind them what they can change for themselves. And you can also remind them that sometimes, there is nothing to change. Sometimes, they are perfect just the way they are.
And they have always been. xoxo.