I've written some about my younger sister Maggie, who is eighteen.
You can read more about her at her new blog.
I’ve heard about workaholics, people who let their work become their first, all-consuming priority. It’s impossible for me to imagine ever having that particular problem (don’t worry, I have lots of others). Since I was young, it’s always been very clear to me: the people in my life come first. Everything else comes second.
Within the category People, there is a hierarchy of
priorities, and it’s taken me a while (years) to work that out, but I’ve
finally got it. From the top down:
1. my husband
2. the rest of my family
3. my close friends
4. other friends
5. everyone else
(The big list of priorities continues:
9. whatever novel I'm reading
68. washing dishes
94. cleaning the toilet
It goes on, but it’s too long to list in its entirety here.)
My husband doesn’t take up much time. He works forty hours a week, and I have class only twelve of those hours, so that gives me a lot of extra hours. I’m home alone; I have freedom to read, to sing, to think. I talk to myself constantly. I’ll stand in the shower until the water runs cold, muttering, “Chesterton talked about that – where did I read that? It’s a good analogy, but does it apply in this case? Of course, all analogies are imperfect. Anyway, I need to make sure to tell Mom about that; she’ll like it.” I’m sure if people could hear me, they’d be completely bewildered.
My regular schedule allows plenty of time for meditation, for working out theories in my head, for opening blank Microsoft Word documents and writing, then erasing, five different introductory paragraphs for a weblog entry I never end up finishing. (You might not believe it, but it takes me a lot of effort to come up with a style this unpolished. Carelessness is not easy, people!) In a very real way, my writing is born of my solitude.
Have I mentioned that I have five siblings? Five siblings, two parents, one soon-to-be-brother-in-law, one husband. You do the math. Every holiday, that’s ten of us. Not ten for Christmas or Easter dinner, where we invite the guests over and the house is filled with craziness for a couple hours, but ten for the whole time. Ten for the baseline. Ten at the minimum, if no one else is visiting.
I love it. For me, it’s exactly the way family is supposed to be, bustling and a little out of control. There’s always someone to talk to, someone who wants a cup of tea when I want one, someone who will answer, “Yes!” when I yell, “Anyone want to play a game?” This weekend I got the chance to play computer games with Tommy, listen to Katie read a monologue she wrote (a very good one for a fourteen-year-old, I might add), tease George about his height, his girlfriend, and his long hair, and tell Maggie how beautiful she looked in her new Easter outfit. I was interacting with people constantly. It was bliss.
You don’t get to choose your family. Some people spend their whole lives trying to get away from the families into which they were born. I am incredibly blessed, because my family is exactly the one I would have chosen. In response to that blessing, I try to spend the time I have with them well. They were given to me, but I want to choose them too, and this means interacting with them and not spacing out into my alone-world.
It’s my choice: I will be there, or I will be writing. When I lived at home it was different, but now that I see my family relatively infrequently, I want to use every moment well, so when I am with them I will always choose to be there. It’s unfortunate that it leaves me no time to write, because I want to write, and I want to interact with all you Internet people whom I love so much, but you saw my list. These priorities aren’t changing.
This is my long-winded apology, my justification, for being absent from this world during the past week. I missed you all, I really did, but I’m happy about the way I spent my time. This is also a warning, I guess, for the future: when holidays roll around, I won’t be writing much. In the meantime, I’ll try to make up for it. It’s good to be back.
Some firstborn children resent their younger siblings, but my parents say that, at the age of eighteen months, I was absolutely thrilled at my sister Rosie’s arrival, wanting to touch her and be near her and share all my things with her. When she was an infant I would to bounce on her tummy when she was lying on the floor – my mom tells of being horrified when she first saw me doing it, until she realized that Rosie was laughing, delighted with the game. And I was delighted with my little sister.
We grew up together. All siblings grow up together, but some more than others, and Rosie and I did so in the fullest sense of the word. I have to try very hard to come up with a single childhood memory that does not include her. We shared a room from her birth until I left for college. As children, after my parents sent us to bed, we would whisper together for hours, leaning out of our bunk beds so that we could see each other’s faces in the dark. Things were hilarious to us that no one else understood – we could laugh hysterically at the idea of “the world in a cup!” and that makes me smile even now – and we could amuse ourselves for hours just talking to each other.
Of course, we had our own circles of friends, and we were not always so close. I had a somewhat stormy adolescence, a dark time when I shared little with my family. But leaving for college made me appreciate them all much more, and in the past five years my relationship with my sister has been re-strengthened. They say that you can choose your friends but not your family; I am grateful that I have exactly the family I would have chosen. Rosie’s and my friendship is no longer a thing of happenstance. We are friends not because we were born in the same family, but because we choose to be friends. In bewildering waves of adulthood she is a rock for me, and I for her. We support each other; we need each other. This is why it has been so hard for us to be away from each other these past months.
I can’t describe the situation in too much detail for fear of revealing my location, but I’ll give you a little bit of background on why Rosie and I are apart now. (Although I’m sure that all who are hip to the Catholic academic world have already figured out where I go to school. So much for anonymity.) For the past two years Rosie and I had been going to the same college, she as a resident and I as a commuter student. We saw each other every day. This past fall she, for various reasons, transferred to our college’s Florida campus. Until this academic year, we had never lived more than an hour-and-a-half drive away from each other, and now she lives in the tropics of our country, and I am still up here in the tundra. We talk on the phone often, but it is a poor subsitute for daily contact, and I miss her horribly.
This past weekend I flew down to see her. We did little of social import – no crazy partying, no staying up until dawn. But, just as I relish my time with my other sisters who I get to see more often, I relished every minute of this weekend with Rose. We had time to be silly together, to laugh hysterically, and time to talk seriously about the future and love and life and all the things that these years bring to us more quickly than we can absorb them. My eyes tear up a little from missing her now, especially since I know that she is missing me as well. I look forward to next year, when she will be back here and time together will once again be the norm rather than a rare treasure.
I’ve posted pictures from my trip here.
So I have this infertility problem. And then I get philosophical about the infertility, and I start trying to be deep and make meaning out of it on my blog. I’m jumping up and down over here, going “Ooh, ooh, look at me! I am infertile and yet I don’t let it get me down! Admire me for my poised and spiritual approach to this totally crappy situation.”
Haha. You probably already know it, but sometimes this is a false front. There are good days and bad days, but the truth about infertility is that it makes me want to crawl under the covers and not come out. Duh. A lot of the time I keep going only because I have to, not because I am inspired and eternally optimistic like I try to make myself sound.
You know what? This post was not supposed to be about infertility, so I guess I better interrupt myself before I end up with a not-about-infertility post that has a four-paragraph introduction about infertility. Huh.
Ideas for posts have been few and far between these past weeks; thus, the song lyrics in the last post, for which I apologize. But I’ve finally come up with an idea! I’ve downloaded Google’s Picasa photo organizer and am very much enjoying it, and it has inspired me.
I give you the history of my relationship with Bryan, documented for your enjoyment with pictures.
Bryan and I had our first date in the fall of 1998. I was barely sixteen; he was a week away from eighteen. He called me one Tuesday night to ask me out. (Of course I had been expecting him to call me. This was high school, people! It would have been weird if the grapevine hadn’t informed me ahead of time.) He said he wanted to compare answers on the calculus homework. (We were the two best students in the class. We did not need to compare answers.) So we went over the calculus for, like, twenty minutes. Booooring. Then, just as I was thinking he was about to get serious, he proceeded to discuss other topics, including marching band and his dad’s love of Star Trek, until my head was ready to explode. Forty-five minutes later, I had to resort to desperate measures. I told him that my sister needed the phone, and he finally asked me if I wanted to go out for dinner with him. (Did you think I was going to say no? I thought he was really cute.)
Our first date was that Saturday, October 10th. We went to Applebee’s, not because either of us had any great love for it, but because we were driving past it when I happened to notice that his ex-girlfriend (of two years, the reason he had been previously unavailable to date me, even though I am his soul mate) was driving right behind us. She was actually a very nice girl, and I’m sure she was not following us on purpose, but as soon as I mentioned her presence, Bryan said, “How about Applebee’s?” and shrieked into the parking lot on two wheels to get away from her. He might have been a little paranoid, because she was pretty clingy when they were dating. It wasn’t a very auspicious start, but we didn’t need one because, as I said, we were meant for each other.
More than six years later, I’m amazed at how much I still remember about that night. I remember exactly what we both wore, exactly what we both ate. I remember sitting nervously on my hands during breaks in the conversation; I remember him pulling out money to pay for dinner and carefully showing me all the features of the new twenty-dollar bill. I remember walking by the river after dinner, our matching school jackets wrapped tightly around us to ward off the cold. I remember when he dropped me off at home, a little embarrassed that he had a 12:30 curfew and I had none. I reached my hand back into the car after I got out, and he held it in his for a moment.
I little knew then how quickly my life would become linked to this near-stranger’s. Thinking back, I can’t describe the linking concretely now any more than I could then. On our first date, I barely knew him, but since then there has not been a day that I haven’t thought about him.
We spent the first months of our relationship tentatively getting to know one another. We would spend hours sitting in his car by the boardwalk, talking. One evening we bought a package of glow-in-the-dark star stickers and pasted them all over the ceiling in his car. (This is now my car, and a couple of them are still up there.) When spring came we started walking by the river, enjoying the warm breezes almost as much as we enjoyed each other’s presence. I marveled at how our dates apparently defied physics – the hours before curfew sped by more quickly than I thought possible. Still, I knew that Bryan was leaving for college in the fall, and so I guarded against heartbreak. His school was only an hour-and-a-half away, but I knew that we might decide a long-distance relationship wasn’t worth the hassle, and I wanted to be okay with that.
It’s a good thing that breaking up wasn’t what he wanted, because it would have hurt me more than I expected. Being away from Bryan changed the way I felt about him. It made everything more real, more painful and more joyful at the same time. He would drive back on weekends to see me and I counted the hours until he came home. We could spend whole evenings together just talking. As we sat together, I would trace the curve of his jaw with my fingers, and think that the lines of his face were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
We first started talking about marriage that winter, in early 2000. It sounds crazy to me now, because we were only seventeen and nineteen, but we were in love. We wanted to get married; we were ready. Retrospectively, I can see that things would have been much easier if Bryan and I had started dating a few years later, or if we’d realized that things were getting too serious and backed it off for a while. You can’t get married at seventeen! It’s not even legal.
But there we were, totally into each other and ready for the commitment (or so we thought). We figured out that we could probably get married as soon as he graduated from college, even though I’d have one year left. Three-and-a-half years sounded like a lot, but we didn’t really have a choice.
It’s a fun experiment. You should try it sometime. Get two hormonally-charged kids in their late teens who are madly in love (and trying to live chastely, no less) and say to them, “Sure, you can get married… In three years! Bwahahahaha!”
As crazy as we were about each other, the pressure was too much. We tried to stay together, but we broke up three times between the spring of 2000 and the fall of 2001. I definitely cried more in that time than in any other year of my life.
The weird thing was, I was the one who broke it off, every time. Actually, it’s not all that weird, considering that Bryan has a thousand times more patience than I do. He could wait, but I could not. I was miserable, waiting. Three years felt like a lifetime to me. So I tried finding happiness in other places. I tried being single; I tried dating other guys, but nothing was right. And every time I started being quiet and listening to God again, He sent me right back to Bryan.
We had a huge fight in September of 2001, and we spent the next month apart. It was the hardest month of my life. I was avoiding the truth that I was simply too scared and too weak to commit to waiting for the man I loved. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I had no real control over my happiness. I wasn’t ready to trust God on the timing.
One afternoon in late September, I went to confession. I hadn’t been in a long time, but I suddenly felt called to go. The peace I received in that absolution was unlike any I had felt before or have felt since. On my walk back to my dormitory in the late-afternoon sunshine, I passed Bryan’s dorm. Propelled by a force I hardly knew and yet trusted completely, I suddenly turned and walked up the stairs. In that moment I knew that he was for me, and that I could not skirt around it anymore. I walked into that dormitory prepared to commit the rest of my life to him.
I went to his room. He had the door propped open and I stood in the doorway for a moment and watched him typing, struck by my love for him. He saw me and stood up; I walked to him and put my arms around his neck. We hardly had to say anything; I think he knew that I had come back to him for good.
Only a few weeks later, we decided to throw caution to the wind and get married a year earlier than we had planned. We didn’t get officially engaged until February, but we were essentially engaged from that time forward.
This picture was taken a few days after our engagement, at his grandfather’s birthday party. It was during the six months between his proposal and our wedding in August that I learned the real truth about engagement. I always tell it to my friends when they get engaged: Getting married is not the fun part. Being married is the fun part.
That probably isn’t true for everyone, but it certainly was for us. We argued constantly during our engagement. One of my philosophy professors once said that engagement is the hardest time, because you’re committed, but there is still the possibility that things could fall apart. Marriage, for Catholic couples at least, is an assurance. Look, you’re stuck – things can no longer fall apart, because they’re not allowed to.
Bryan and I were married August 17, 2002. All the arguing we’d done during our engagement suddenly stopped, and we just enjoyed finally being married. Our honeymoon, which we spent at a resort on Hawaii’s Kona Coast, was in many ways the best seven days of my life.
And yet, in another way, every day since then has been even better. Of course our bliss-induced honeymoon tempers didn’t last, and we’ve had plenty of arguments since then, but they’ve been productive arguments. We’ve grown into each other in the last two-and-a-half years. We’ve become one emotionally, in echo of our sacramental oneness.
I would be lying if I said I had never considered that it might have been easier another way. Getting married at nineteen is no picnic. You give up a lot of things about being young, being carefree, that are fun and valuable. And yet for me, there is no question that marrying Bryan when I did was exactly the right decision. My life right now makes more sense than I ever imagined it could. He and I have had challenges, and I know we will have many more as the years wind by, but he is for me, and nothing can change that. I am so grateful.
One time I took a personality quiz – I can’t remember where or for what purpose – and it told me that I am the kind of girl who likes to talk about her family’s holiday traditions.
It was possibly the most astute quiz I have ever taken.
I don’t know what your Christmas was like. I would love to know, of course, and feel free to tell me if you want to, either in the comments or in email. Meanwhile, I’m going to tell you about my Christmas, because, well, because I love to talk about my family’s holiday traditions.
Christmas Eve, my parents’ house
“It’s time for dinner. Katie, please call everyone to the table.”
“DINNERTIME! IT’S DINNERTIME!”
“Don’t yell. Go find people, and tell them, quietly.”
“Everyone’s already here.”
“He’s probably listening to music on his headphones. Go upstairs and find him. And stop yelling.”
Katie stomps toward the stairs. Just as she starts up them, George slides down. He still isn’t used to the new length of the limbs on his six-foot frame, and always seems about to topple over.
We sit down to dinner.
“I don’t like ham.”
“Okay, just have potatoes and green beans, then. There’s cheesecake for dessert.”
“I don’t like potatoes. Or green beans. Or cheesecake. Can I have Cinnamon Toast Crunch?”
Mom sighs. We clamor to console her.
“Mom, you know Tommy is super-picky. The food is great!”
“Yeah, these are the best au gratin potatoes ever!”
“I didn’t know green beans could taste this good.”
“Don’t pay attention to him.”
Mom looks slightly cheered, but now Tommy, the baby of the family, is about to burst into tears.
She looks at him. “Okay, you can have Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But only because it’s Christmas.”
He happily eats three bowls.
Now that everyone is satisfied with the menu, we turn to our annual discussion (argument) about What Time to Get up on Christmas Morning.
I lead off, as always. Since I am the oldest and therefore was the first one to hit adolescence, I’ve been pleading for later wake-up times for about a decade. In the years since I got married, it’s become even more important to me.
“Listen, you guys. Last year you insisted on 6:30, so Michael and I had to get up at 5:30 to shower and dress and drive over here, and then you were all still asleep! Mom and Dad were the only ones up. I had to go around and drag you out of bed. I think 7:30 would be good.”
“No way! We don’t want to wait forever!”
“We’ve never gotten up that late! We used to get up at 5:30!”
“You’re such a spoilsport, Lizzie! It’s Christmas; it won’t kill you to get up early!”
(Yes, we really do use that many exclamation points in our conversation.)
We finally decide that Michael and I will arrive at 7:00am, which is what I had in mind in the first place.
After dinner, Dad lights a fire in the fireplace and we sit around the tree and read The Grinch, and The Night Before Christmas, and the story of the birth of Christ from the book of Luke. Then we sing all the carols we know. Then we hang stockings.
This is a picture that someone, probably the dog, took of us hanging stockings on Christmas Eve. That’s me in the pink shirt and tan pants, if you can see it. From a photographic perspective this is a horrible picture, but I love it. It shows what Christmas is for me: warmly lit, crowded, and a little blurry, but beautiful.
After that, Christmas Eve business is completed. Michael and I go to his parents’ house,
where his mother offers us Bailey’s and his grandparents give us a Christmas
check. (In his family they like to call
it “The gift that always fits perfectly.”) We go to bed.
The alarm clock is shrieking at 6:00am. We drag ourselves out of bed to shower and dress, then get in the car. I sing the Hallelujah Chorus for the entire seven-minute drive from Michael’s parents’ house to mine.
I push open the front door, stomping snow off my boots, and laugh at the semi-comatose forms of Rosie and Katie bundled in blankets on the couch. “Girls, it’s Christmas! It won’t kill you to get up early,” I tease them, and dodge Katie’s arm, which reaches out to bat me as I trip past her.
The tree, though certainly not a work of art, always has a special radiance on Christmas morning. I run to the kitchen and grab a mug of steaming, fragrant tea, then come back and plop down next to Dad, admiring the lights and the pile of presents. He tells me that it took more than an hour to get all the gifts under the tree the night before, that by the end he and the elves (Rosie and Maggie) were packing them in, shoving the smaller ones into gaps left by the larger. “You couldn’t water the tree right now if you wanted to.”
The other members of the family are trickling in now, bleary-eyed. We say Morning Prayer and then Dad passes out stockings. We open them at the same time.
“Wow, Mom, a Tangle! Thanks.”
“What’s a Tangle?”
“I don’t know, but it looks cool.”
“I love the barrettes! How did you know I needed them?”
“You were with me when I bought them, silly.”
This goes on until the stockings are emptied, then we sit down to breakfast. Dad has baked melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon rolls, and we have them with sausages and grapefruit. After that the kids rush off to shower and dress for Mass, and in an hour we are on our way.
Christmas morning Mass is not well-attended at our parish, since most people go the night before. We fill the front pew and sing lustily during the hymns, making a sort of choir for the lone cantor, who is playing the guitar. The celebration of the Eucharist by the elderly priest, an old family friend, seems especially beautiful this morning. My heart is touched in a way it has not been for months, and I make my own Thanksgiving, a month after our country observed it.
After Mass we go home, change into jeans, and get ready to attack the pile of presents.
Actually, “attack” is not a good word. We are more genteel than that. (Or, as my brother Tommy just spelled the word when I was IMing with him, “gentile.” I suppose that is appropriate, since it is mostly Gentiles who celebrate Christmas, right?)
We open the presents one at a time. We do a rotation, youngest to oldest, and each person takes a turn choosing a present for someone else to open. It takes us three hours to open all the gifts. By the time we are done, at 2:00, we are all exhausted, but very happy with our new stuff.
The kids wander off to nap or play with their new toys. There is no rest for Michael and me, though – we have to go to his parents’ house and start all over again with the presents. We’ll have Christmas dinner there, and then my family comes over for dessert and board games. Christmas is by no means over yet. But since this entry is so long, I’ll have to write about the rest of it next year.
Today is day 28 of my cycle, and I feel roughly as I do every month: a little hopeful, a little apprehensive. Mostly I'm just trying not to think about it.
That's easier than usual to do, actually. Over this Christmas break I've determined that my writing is born of my solitude. When I do not have time to be alone, I do not have time for introspection, and therefore I am blocked. I've spent the past two weeks as I most like to spend them. Family time really is a foretaste of heaven.
I know that for many infertile people the holidays are a bitter time, a time that reminds them of what they don't have. For me, though, this vacation has been a reminder of what I do have. During Advent in my own home I was sad about being once again without a child, but in the bustle of Christmas in my parents' home I realized that although Bryan's and my family may take many years and tears to build, I will always have the family in which I grew up waiting for me. That is immeasurably valuable.
Even in the bustle (and yes, sometimes turmoil) of family time, though, my mind keeps returning to my baby-less state. In the confusion of this moment, I am a jumble of silliness and faith, of hope and despair. This is especially true this month. It started a few weeks ago, when I was trying to figure out why God would let my last cycle drag for 31 days. Just to torture me? But then I realized that in my new cycle, day 16 landed on Christmas Eve, and I was praying that my request would be granted in the symbolic hour of Christ's birth, midnight. Perhaps, I hoped crazily, conception will take place at that moment! In the glory of Christmas would come the answer to my prayer.
Now, twelve days after Christmas, I am dubious at best. But I am trying to be faithful, and so I decided to share my little hopes here, where I can do so safely. I know that in a few weeks, or perhaps even a few days, I may reread this and laugh scornfully at myself. I must try, though, to keep the one resolution I have made for myself in this new year, and so I record my silly dreams here. In another year, whether or not I have a baby, I want to be softer, more pliable than I am now. This writing, along with my crazy (yet still present) hopes for a Christmas baby, leads me a little closer to that goal.
I’ve always been sensitive to atmosphere. I am not a neat person, nor a clean one (if you could see the state of my refrigerator and my shower you would understand), but I must have at least one space that is peaceful. When I was a child, and the room I shared with my sister was a mess, I would take my book downstairs to the living room. And if the living room was a mess, as it so often was, I would painstakingly put away the blocks or the Legos, fold blankets, take empty cups into the kitchen, until I had a neat space in which to relax and read. I needed that one little space. The prettier it was, the better. It did not bother me in the slightest that upstairs, my toys were spread haphazardly over the room. I just needed the space I was sitting in to be neat.
This is one of the reasons I love Christmastime. My idea of a perfect Christmas activity is to curl up in the light of the tree and read for hours. I especially like it at my parents’ house, where my family is around me, and where there is always a pot of tea in the kitchen, so I can get a mug whenever I like. That’s Christmas at home for me: hours of playing games and reading, mugs of tea warming our hands, with Handel’s Messiah playing on the stereo. Someone always starts singing vigorously when the “Hallelujah Chorus” comes on, “For our Lord God, omnipotent, reigneth!” and as we join in the Hallelujahs, I feel that it’s true, that good really must reign, because how else would times like this exist? Dad always told us when we were children, during the really happy moments, “This is a little bit of what heaven will be like.” You wouldn’t think that sounded cheesy if you knew my dad, all 6’2” of him, with white beard and glasses and low, solemn voice. He plays a mean air guitar (also air bassoon and air oboe) but when he is solemn, he is, and when we were children we saw beauty and depth in the world as he pointed them out to us. We still do, actually.
Anyway, a big part of Christmas for me has always been the atmosphere: the carols, the smell of cookies baking, but especially the beauty of the decorations and the tree. (I had classmates who thought Christmas was all about the presents. I wasn’t one of those kids, not because I had some deep-seated sensitivity to the importance of the birth of the baby Jesus, but because with five siblings you can’t let your greed overtake you. Especially if you’re a child of parents who don’t believe in spending more money than they have, and what they have is not all that much. If you get greedy you won’t be satisfied, and then you will be unhappy on Christmas.)
This weekend Bryan and I put up lights and stockings and our Christmas trees. We have two fake trees because his grandmother moved into a smaller assisted living place and can’t have hers any more, so his mom gave it to us. I would much rather have one real tree, a massive thing six feet in diameter with a satisfying sprucey scent, but since we spend two weeks visiting our parents for Christmas we cannot have a real tree, since we would be greeted upon our return by a carpet full of pine needles. So we put up the fake trees, and we decorate them, and it is really a good thing we have two of them because our new house has a big room, and only one of these puny trees would not cut it.
I’m glad that we go home for Christmas, actually. It’s a family thing. Bryan's and my life together is great. I want to emphasize that, it’s super-great, but it’s not a family thing. Really, it’s just the two of us. We can go out to dinner at 9:00pm on a Tuesday if we want to, and we laugh and we have lots of fun together. But it’s not a family thing; it’s just the two of us. I can try to fool myself into thinking it’s better this way, but I know I’m lying to myself.
Last year I thought that by Christmas I would certainly be pregnant, probably showing. I actually worried (can you believe it?) about a pre-Thanksgiving trip to Disney World, because I thought I might have morning sickness or just be feeling generally like crap and not be able to enjoy it or go on any of the rides. (Which are completely cheesy, by the way, especially compared to the rides at this place.) I laugh now at the self I was then, the self that thought pregnancy was an easy thing, a thing that just happens. I never imagined that trying to get pregnant would be a thing that involves lying in bed, chest heaving with sobs, not even bothering to wipe the tears off my face because I’m so scared that I’ll never be a mother.
Over Thanksgiving, I told my mother-in-law about how we’re trying to have a baby. She told me her story, about how she and Bryan's dad went off birth control after six years of marriage and got pregnant the very first month. Then Bryan was born and they tried again for ten years, but never had another child. It was heartbreaking to hear her story, to hear in her voice her regret at never being able to feel that her grief about her secondary infertility was valid. It made me so grateful for the Internet community of strong, loving, supportive women, both infertile and fertile, who have helped make this experience so much more bearable for me. If I couldn’t write about it, I’m not sure I could handle it. So even though my mother-in-law is now way past childbearing age, my heart aches for her, kind of the way it aches for myself.
I didn’t do a Thanksgiving post, having spent too much time enjoying the holiday to have any time in which to write about it. In the interest of not becoming a whiny brat (I really don’t mind when other people whine about their infertility, but when I start to do it, I get sick of me. Go figure.) I offer you this list of things for which I am thankful:
I could probably go on for quite some time in this fashion, but 8 was my favorite number when I was a kid, so I’ll stick with that. My other favorite number was 23, and I don’t think you want me to make a list that long. Numbers 10-23 would probably get read only by Bryan, because he loves me and wants to make sure I don’t say anything bad about him on my blog. (Not that I would ever do that. Dear. I love you.) I’ll leave the list at its current length. Many blessings of Advent to you all, and I promise weightier posts when my head has cleared.
I read somewhere the results of a study which found that adopted children generally feel loved and accepted by their immediate adopted family, but often don’t make a connection with their extended adopted family. At the time, I didn’t think we’d ever need to adopt, so I filed it away under “Interesting, but Irrelevant.” This past weekend, I remembered it.
In recent months adoption has become a more real possibility for us. There are still a lot of things I’d like to try first, but if conception turns out to be impossible, we will adopt. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, but not actually talking about it with anyone but Bryan, which is why I was surprised to see this book, subtitled “Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption,” on my mom’s desk. I asked her jokingly if she and Dad were planning on adopting (they still have four kids under 18, so I doubt they’d have the energy for a new one) and she said, “Oh, no, I was just interested in knowing what adoptive parents go through.” I hugged her, filled with gratitude to have a mom who wants to understand the struggles of others.
I was even more grateful later, when she was reading the book. I’ve read enough about adoption in blogworld to know that some people are very insensitive about it, but my mom, bless her innocent little heart, apparently didn’t know. The book told of a grandmother who had a party for all her grandchildren, and didn’t invite the adopted ones. My mom was appalled; she had honestly not heard of anything like this before. I reluctantly disabused her, but I was also touched by her quick reaction. In her mind, it’s simple: adopted children are part of the family, just like biological ones.
This made me so happy, especially in light of the findings of that study. I have such a warm, open-hearted family – it thrills me to know that they would accept an adopted child just as lovingly as they would one I had given birth to. It makes the possibility of adoption that much more bearable for me.
I’ve been writing about myself non-stop since I started this blog. The only other people I’ve referenced are Bryan and that random guy in the video store, and both those references were in stories that were really about me. Me, me, me. Of course I’m the oldest in my family and thus very bossy and selfish, but that is no excuse. So today I’m going to put the focus on someone else.
I want to tell you about my sister Katie, the fifth out of the six children in our family. Every person is unique, but she is absolutely unique. Uniquely unique. It’s cliché, I know, but it’s true. You have never met anyone like our Kate.
The rest of us are alike in various ways. Maggie (number three) and Tommy (number six) and I are all perfectionist over-achievers, for example. George (number four) and Rose (number two) are both very generous, and always have been. Katie is smart and generous too, of course, but she mixes it her own way.
I come from a family of linear thinkers. It started with my parents, and got passed down. Except for Katie, all of us think in syllogisms easily. We’re good arguers. Our writing might be a little boring, but it always makes sense. What we lack in creativity, we make up for in 99th-percentile test scores. Even our artistic endeavors are governed by regulations: we sing the written parts, we dance the choreographed moves, and we color in the lines. Katie breaks out of our mold in an absolutely beautiful way. Like the sun pushing through the clouds after days of gray, she might be hard to get used to at first, but she’s completely worth it.
We were all shy kids, the kind who fade into the background. That was not an option for my little sister, because she was born with a dermoid (a patch of skin tissue) on the surface of one of her eyes. At the time, laser surgery techniques were not good enough to ensure improved vision if they removed it, and there was the risk of actually hurting her vision. So my parents decided to put her in glasses and wait until she was old enough to make the decision about whether to get it removed. A few years later, when Katie started school, she was faced with constant questions about “that thing on your eye” and she learned to deal with them well. None of the rest of us are cool, but she is, and I think it’s because of her dermoid.
Even before she started school, though, we knew she was special. Mom has always referred to Kate as her “strong-willed child,” and the phrase is apt. Those glasses she got as an infant? In her toddler years they spent as much time off her face as on it, because she hated them. We older kids had a constant mission to help mom and dad keep Katie’s glasses on her. She threw tantrums, too, in a way none of the rest of us had. I still remember how her tiny body would stiffen when she was angry, and it was clear that She Was. Not. Ever. Giving. In. Ever. Now, at fourteen, she has much more self-control, but I think that particular set of her jaw will be with her all her life.
By the way. Oh man, is she gorgeous. I was worried that this might never happen, but it has. We were all gangly kids, and Rosie, Maggie, and I all grew tall and then filled out, but Katie filled out… and while we were waiting for her to get tall, it was worrisome in there. Not that chubby kids are bad-looking. Some chubby kids are really cute. But she wasn’t chubby, she was just solid, like a short, wide truck. Plus she pulled out this big chunk of her hair in the front. Our short, wide, half-bald truck, while still the same charming girl, was not objectively all that attractive. But now she’s tall, and her hair is long and thick and wavy, and she’s breathtaking when she smiles. She started high school this year and George, who’s two years older than she, jokes about taking a crowbar to school to beat the guys off. Maggie, who’s a senior, told me seriously that she doesn’t take Katie around her friends because she’s afraid they’d make rude remarks about her. (Maggie, who’s amazing in other ways, looks a lot like me. Cute, but not dazzling like Kate.)
Math and science are not Katie’s forte, and she doesn’t like to argue, but she loves creative writing. Sure, her grammar and spelling might need editing, but her phrases are intensely evocative. On holidays she writes skits and we perform them, and lines that look silly on paper are hilarious when performed – she has a knack for that. She’s our family actress; at age thirteen she blew us all away with her performance of the Wicked Stepmother in her school’s Cinderella play (as my father-in-law put it, she was the only real actress up there). She loves to sing and dance (especially Irish step-dancing). More importantly than any of this, though, she keeps us all real. She reminds us, day after day, that life doesn’t come in boxes, that it doesn’t always make sense, and that this is a beautiful thing. I’m so glad she’s going to be there the rest of my life, to keep reminding me.