Wednesday, October 21, 2015

WYL #13 - Family Life

The First Evidence I Had of Love

The shiny red Camero pulled up in front of our house. Aunty Jean and I rushed out to see my mom, and the newborn baby that was Kirsten, my sister. Being only 5, I couldn't have anticipated the change from beloved only child to responsible older sister, and I certainly couldn't have predicted that the bunting bag would hold a life-long friend. 

I don't remember much of the first few years after her arrival. I was no longer the centre of attention and she was too young to play with but I think I cheerfully accepted this. 

On her first birthday Dad and I were in charge of the icing for her cake. A little of this colour, a little of that, and it was a murky black - not a crisp penguin black, but more like a nasty bruise.  I recall another incident when she was around 3. We were in the bath and I convinced her that the bar of soap was white chocolate. She sunk her teeth into the glistening white bar and then howled, bubbles coming out of her mouth like a rabid dog. I had learned from the best - my father was always pulling some sort of trick on one of us, even the pets didn't escape his wicked sense of humour. Looking back it seems I may have had a mean streak!

You would think that Kirsten would be less trusting of me after that, but she was a sweet soul. When we had ice cream cones, I'd greedily finish mine and then suggest to Kirsten that we play that I was her dog. Of course she'd feed me licks of her melting treat. She had a pink 'blankie' that went to bed with her every night. When she was 5, I convinced her to cut it up to make blankets for the Barbie house we were building out of cardboard boxes. She complied, but at bedtime realized what had been done. This time there were no soap bubbles coming out of her mouth, but she was no less mad! I teamed up with my dad to tease and harass. 'Monkey Bean' and 'Kirsten Jean Jellybean' were favourite taunts. We felt that somehow all this teasing would make her stronger and better able to fare on the playground. I think she'd tell you that it had the opposite effect. 

Those years have long past and as proof of the strength of family bonds we are good friends. The best kind of friend: one that has shared a lifetime of experience.

My next sibling was announced as we sat around the dinner table celebrating my father's birthday. Mom handed him a card signed from his new son or daughter. We sat in stunned silence until the good news sunk in. I was excited about having a baby brother or sister. Olaf arrived in September 1976, 2 days before my 14th birthday. 

We heard about the upcoming arrival of my youngest brother, Graham, while we were sailing on the Ottawa river. After all the diaper changing we had already done Kirsten and I might not have been thrilled to hear the news. He was born 1 1/2 years after Olaf when I was 15 1/2. We loved him instantly. Our family was complete.

Olaf and Graham gave me plenty of practice changing diapers and walking the floor in the middle of the night with a colicky baby, but they soon grew out of that and became charming little boys. I loved to dress them up in cute outfits and take them on outings, sometimes in the stroller and often on the bus. They were adorable, the centre of attention wherever they were. Unfortunately my family moved away when I was 19 so I missed their growing up years. Of course we visited and there were times when they came to visit me in my various apartments, but those times were few and far between. I do recall one time bringing Olaf to Ottawa from Kingston on the back of my motorcycle - he would have been 6 or 7! A few times they had to come to work with me while they were visiting. They'd sit quietly with crayons colouring on the back of computer listings. Co-workers would drop by to entertain them with ascii art and other incredible sights. I still have a crayon drawing of the CN tower drawn by Olaf.

Kirsten, with her husband, Shawn, and daughters, Shenna and Nissa, moved to New Zealand in 2003. We don't get to visit very often - 4 years was the longest stretch (so far). Olaf and his wife, Tammy, followed in 2009. They had a daughter in New Zealand in 2012 - I've only seen Freya a few times. I miss them all terribly. My heart aches from missing the girls' growing up years. Phone calls are good but no substitute for being there. 

Graham has two kids, Erik and Juliette, and lives in Ottawa so we visit frequently. My youngest brother shares a bipolar diagnosis ensuring that we have a special relationship.  

I am lucky to have a warm and loving relationship will all my siblings, thanks in no small part to the influence of my parents. 


"People talk about the happy quiet that can exist between two loves, but this, too, was great; sitting between his sister and his brother, saying nothing, eating. Before the world existed, before it was populated, and before there were wars and jobs and colleges and movies and clothes and opinions and foreign travel -- before all of these things there had been only one person, Zora, and only one place: a tent in the living room made from chairs and bed-sheets. After a few years, Levi arrived; space was made for him; it was as if he had always been. Looking at them both now, Jerome found himself in their finger joints and neat conch ears, in their long legs and wild curls. He heard himself in their partial lisps caused by puffy tongues vibrating against slightly noticeable buckteeth. He did not consider if or how or why he loved them. They were just love: they were the first evidence he ever had of love, and they would be the last confirmation of love when everything else fell away." ~Zadie Smith

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