Birthday mural my sisters made with Jaya and Alder
Yesterday I turned 33. “Jesus year!” chirped my friend Helena that morning (is this a thing? And is that supposed to be bad or good?! It certainly sounds ominous.)
My 33rd year has not started as badly as it could have, given that context, but I have to say: it hasn’t been my favorite birthday either.
I rang in my 33rd year, almost exactly at midnight, when Jaya started crying hysterically and we couldn’t figure out why. Now, in all my fantasies of having children before I actually had children, comforting little ones from nightmares was definitely one I had a very specific vision of: I imagined myself listening patiently, using soothing tones to comfort, my cool hand brushing hairs off the little one’s sweaty brow, sitting there as long as necessary, watching little eyelids flutter peacefully back to sleep.
Maybe that’s what it is like for some of you. But Jaya — Jaya doesn’t like to talk about her nightmares. She likes to sit straight up and wail until she is no longer possessed by whatever frightful vision has visited her in her sleep, completely stonewalling any attempts at comfort. You just sit there, impotent, pleading with her to tell you what’s wrong (because she will never disclose whether it’s that she’s had a nightmare, or her stomach hurts, or she has to pee), by turns super sweet and stern in a desperate attempt to evoke a response.
So we had a half hour of that last night. And then, immediately after we settled her back down, Alder woke up and starts wailing. Alder isn’t like Jaya when it comes to nightmares — on the rare occasion he has one, he will generally allow you to comfort him, and he is quite a bit less hysterical in general. And as it turns out, he didn’t wake up because of a nighmare — he woke up because he was sick. Because he proceeded to spend the rest of the night sleeping for 30 minutes, crying for 30 minutes, and coughing for 30 minutes, all night long, in that order and for that length of time, like clockwork.
So it was an inauspicious start to a birthday. But the worst part was that the kids’ out-of-nowhere cold ensured we wouldn’t be driving to Island Beach State Park to spend the afternoon and evening with some out-of-town friends who are normally 9 hours out of town and are currently a mere 3 hours out of town. These are some of our very best friends, and while we normally see them at least once and often twice a year, we haven’t seen them since June of last year. So missing the opportunity left me really sad and quite frankly a good deal infantile about “my luck on my birthday.” I’m normally not so lame; I’ve really reconciled myself to my birthday not being such a big deal anymore (I am 33, and have two kids, after all). We haven’t done much to celebrate in the last three years or so, especially since my birthday has been falling during Ramadan and eating is kind of the best part of a birthday. But it’s been a hard couple of weeks of dissertating husband and overexhausted children and yesterday I was just not having the easiest time reconciling myself to my birthday this year being spent with two sick kids in my house when it was supposed to be spent on a beach with dear friends. It was just one of those days where I fighting what was rather than accepting it. And fighting looked a little bit like sending petulant “I just want to forget it’s my birthday” texts to the sisters who were valiantly trying to gauge whether my little family was up to something else even though we couldn’t go to the beach.
So they took matters into their own hands, came over, handed me an envelope of money, and promptly sent me to a get an hour long massage while they cleaned my house and played with my sick children.
I’m not going to lie and end this entry with some kind of platitude that essentially implies don’t you wish you had sisters like mine? Because the truth is, as one of three sisters, you can sometimes feel cornered into a set role of “eldest,” or “middle,” or “youngest.” Family mythologies take over in all families sometimes, and it’s hard to see that people grow and evolve and thus are unfairly limited by those narratives. Other times there are the usual issues of any set of three: for example, right now my sisters live together, and I’m the only one with the children, so inevitably there can be feelings of exclusion. And sometimes, quite frankly, we just drive each other completely insane. I have definitely stormed out of fights with my sisters certain I will never, ever speak to them again. Never! On other occasions (okay, fine, this one being probably about twenty years ago) I have made my sister mad enough to throw a high-heeled shoe through a door. We are very, very different people. We are also eerily, eerily alike. It’s a potent combination, particularly when you live across the street from each other and have as entwined lives as we do.
But I also know that no one else in the world will ever have my back like my sisters. No one else in the world will always accept me as much as my sisters accept me, or know me as well as my sisters know me (and the fact that those two phrases can exist in tandem says a lot). In fact, I’d go a step further: no one else in the world knows just how broken I can be, and yet no one else in the world thinks I am quite as amazing as my sisters seem to. Having two little sisters is like having one’s own personal cheering squad. And having a cheering squad, I must tell you, makes life a lot more bearable.
Certainly no one else in my world would respond to petulant texts messages by barging into my house, ordering me out of it, and then cleaning it while I get a massage.
No birthday present I could ever receive could be as good as the gift my parents gave me when they gave me those two.