Monday, May 6, 2013

Part II of “I Confess”,
The Story of My Life Laid Bare

     I confess to often being the wrong sister for what my sister needed. Let me explain.

     I was 2 years old when my parents were told that I would be an only child. They bought it, but I was a harder sell. When I grew tired of asking them for a little brother or sister, to no avail, I by-passed them, & asked my grandparents (both in their 60’s) if they could make one, instead! So, when told, at long last, that my sister, Karen, was on the way, years after I’d accepted my “only child status”, I had a reaction straight out of a slapstick sitcom--- I actually staggered, then swooned! Seriously.
     Almost 20 years into their marriage, my parents welcomed their 2nd child, at ages 36 & 42. I was 8 going on 18, & couldn’t wait to be a big sis…to a little bro, that is. Clearly, my dad’s half of the genes didn’t get the memo! Still, when my expected Jonathan or Marcus turned out to be a Karen Sue, I accepted it pretty readily. And, b/c the new state child restraint law had yet to take effect, I was afforded the privilege of holding my beautiful newborn sister, just 4 days old, all the way home. I was so very excited by my new, more grown-up role, on that 1st day home, that I even tried to feed my non-bottle-fed baby sis, just like mom! Oops.

     Despite this less-than-stellar start, I was pretty good at playing the doting older daughter, at least until I hit my “terrible teens” (think “terrible two’s”, only less mature!). Then, not so much. By way of example: when kindergartener Karen, called Cathy, an unrepentant 8th grade snob, “Sissy”, this small-minded older sibling was M-O-R-T-I-F-I-E-D, beyond the pale, insisting she drop the "embarrassing" moniker. If I'd been concerned with her feelings, I'd have worn the heartfelt nickname like a badge of honor. Alas, I did not. Fast forward to my high school years, when I raised ignoring my little sister to an art form, preferring, instead, the “sophisticated” company of my prep & boarding school peers. My every action must have felt like I thought she was 2nd best, behind these "preferred" other "sisters".
     Was I horrid to her 100% of the time? No. Still, did I dare to share w/ her that I missed her, when I was home on break? Not unless ignoring someone sends that signal subliminally. Did I engage her, absorb her interests, compliment her abilities, or act like I felt anything more about her than tolerance? Often, I don’t think I did. It goes without saying that teens are often self-absorbed, but do they have to be? No. There is no age at which cruelty or indifference should be expected, or accepted. Did I recognize the harm of my actions & in-actions? Again, no. To do so would’ve required a level of conscience & consciousness that I just did not possess. Both reflect a choice, on some level, to put myself, & no one else, first. It’s easy to write off behavior as being related, simply, to being an age, or going through a stage, but if unflinching honesty & admitting one’s mistakes is the goal, then there are not pat excuses that are acceptable. None.

     Why did I often behave abominably toward someone, who, in fact, I loved, & adored? I don’t have a good answer. It certainly wasn’t because of anything lacking in her. I think, in some small way, it was about equating things homespun & heartfelt, with being corny & un-cool. Regardless, it was both false, & wrong. A flaw, not in our stars, or any part of Shakespeare’s heavens, to paraphrase, but in my self.

          When Karen, in turn, was going through the trials of her own teen years, I continued to fail her. I was, by turns, reductive, & judgmental, minimizing her feelings, & often expecting her to be a “mini-me”, rather than her own person, as if that would make her easier for me to understand. Now, I could’ve taken the time to listen better, love more, & learn from her, rather than assuming I have all the answers. To hold one’s sister at an emotional arms-length is harmful, hollow, & hurts.

     To set a bad example, & then trumpet, “Do as I say, not as I do”, is to truly call an ugly tune. I’ve certainly been guilty of that, too. The fact is, if an elder sibling introduces unwholesome books, movies, or ideals, thinking themselves advocates of a more enlightened point of view, that is harmful, too. If, as a big sister, I encourage secret-keeping & duplicity, lampoon my parents, poke holes in their values, & criticize their every choice, undermining them, in their role as family leaders, that has a lasting detrimental effect. This is fact, not theory. (Follow this LINK to sibling research that shows the importance of a sibling’s example.) As a know-it-all young adult, & into my twenties, especially, I made this colossal mistake, time after time. Truthfully, I still find myself doing it, now, sometimes, & I’m in my 40’s! This is to both my sister’s & parents’ detriment, even now.

     Why sow discord, when an attitude reflecting unconditional love & grace would serve our relationships better? Why choose completion over compassion, callous coldness over comfort & caring? I don’t have all the answers, & despite the cock-sure attitude of my younger years, I never have.

     What can I do, then, to begin to right these wrongs? To begin with, I can apologize. For all of it. I’m sorry I contributed to so many struggles, by creating distance between you & Mom, you & Dad, and you & me, with my complaints, criticisms, & complications. I can own these errors & choose behavior that promotes healthy interactions, instead.

     No family is perfect. No relationship is without flaws. But to amplify your youthful annoyances, by adding my own, was inappropriate, immature, & ugly. I’d love to say that I realized the destructive nature of this behavior, fully, years ago, repented of it, & changed my tune. Didn’t happen.

     I do repent & regret it, now, & believe it is never too late to reconcile, as long as we still have breath. I’m sorry I led you astray, in ways both big & small. I’m sorry, too, that I haven’t reached out more, done the work it takes to be closer, to live w/o pretense, & to bear more responsibility for…well…everything. Everything.

     I hope you can someday forgive me for my many fault & failures, as your sister. I hope we can regain the promise of closeness felt in those first few years, as sisters. I want you to know that I am proud of the woman you’ve become--- a loving daughter & sacrificial live-in caregiver to our parents, doting aunt to my 3 now-grown kids, caring sister-in-law to my husband, & soon enough, as the perfectly-matched wife of Jay.

     You see, more often than you’ve realized, I find myself looking up to you--- a woman of strength, kindness, wit, intellect, tenacity, warmth, & depth. I will always love you, just the way you are. I want, more than anything, to once again live up to being the big sister you can admire, be close with, & trust.
                                               Love always, Sissy