My Sister Was Here – Hallelujah!

In my April 6 post, I talked about looking for infections.  If I believed strongly in jinxing myself, I would be freaked out, because on April 7 I had to start antibiotics for strep throat.  I have a swollen, red tonsil with a pocket of icky white stuff that isn’t better yet.  I emphasized vigilance about infections because prednisone masks the symptoms and they tend to progress further before we notice them.  I haven’t had fever or intense pain, which would have been guaranteed without the prednisone, but the flip side is this prolonged course. 

I mentioned my elf.  She had to remain anonymous until she announced her presence to the local family, but it was my youngest sister, in from Minneapolis.  It was the first time we pulled such a prank, keeping her visit plans a secret, and also the first time she stayed at my house instead of in town with the parents.  We had a wonderful time, from the delicious secret plans to our conversation on the way to her departure shuttle.  Who knew that highly different, feuding childhood sibs could turn out to be such close friends? 

Who knew that she was coming to take care of my house and shorten my prep for putting it on the market?  It was her spring break, and I anticipated sitting on the deck with a beverage and chatting about life.  Hah!  Her plan was to whiz through my house, throwing away things, packing others in the pod, and rearranging the remainders into a fashionable showplace.  I had to help, instead of putting my feet up and nursing my sore throat.  Claiming that she “loves” organizing, she went through yarn, books, and clothes with equal fervor, shaking her head at what I’ve accumulated and moved around over the past twenty years.  She cleaned my carpets.  By the time she left, I was out of ways to say “thank you”.  Maybe I can knit her a car. 

We took time off to make two visits to the parents.  They were thrilled to see my sister and overjoyed that she brought her animal, a blue pomeranian, with her.  Nothing makes them happier than dog visits.  Mitchell tipped around their house, leading Daddy with his leash.  He sat in Mama’s lap for a restless moment, letting her hug him and play with his abundant hair.  The second visit had to be short because they were preparing to pick up friends and go to Olive Garden.  We asked if there was a special occasion.  My dad said “No, this is what we do,” as if outlining their busy social schedule.  Chief Sister in Charge of Parent Care has done a wonderful job of making recreation for them. 

I didn’t forget my instructions when my sister left yesterday.  I continued clearing out my room today, and changed the old, dark curtains to light, neutral, crowd-pleasing ones.  I put away-or discarded-a boxful of things that I couldn’t live without last year.  Things lose their appeal so quickly.  I should confine my purchases to books, music and craft supplies. 

Oh heck, 1 a.m. and I haven’t taken the bedtime dose of antibiotics.  At this rate, my tonsil will just die and fall off. 



Everything I Know About Raising Children

There are things on my mind this morning that I can’t say.  My life has always been an open book, but these thoughts come from pages that just can’t be read by everyone.  It’s a hard choice when you are blogging, and are a naturally open person, deciding how much to reveal.  It’s taken me a pretty good chunk of life to be wiser about those decisions.  Suffice it to say, there are things on my mind that I can’t push aside, and they are affecting my attention and my actions.


Everything I know about raising children, I learned from my sisters.  I don’t know if I can fit it all into one post, but I’ll try.  Please excuse the listing, but it helps my brain stay organized.  (Ha!)  Just a bit of  background:  I was the last of six daughters to become a mother.  My daughter’s closest cousin is three years older than her, and her eldest cousin is 24 years older.  Because of the wide age span among the sisters, I was able to see some of my nieces and nephews raised to adulthood before I was a mother.  Indeed, my eldest niece and nephew had their children at the same time as I did.  So, I not only saw my sisters’ techniques in action, I was able to see the long-lasting affects of their choices, the finished products, if you will.  That has given me a list of both do’s and don’ts. 

1.  Speak quietly.  My parents come from the “spare the rod and spoil the child” generation, and children were there to be controlled and yelled at.  When I first observed sisters 4 and 6 with their children, I was shocked to see what they accomplished with a soft voice.  Moreover, the peaceful atmosphere in their houses was enviable. 

2.  Don’t hit your children.  Controlling a child’s behavior by fear (a perfectly acceptable concept in earlier generations) doesn’t achieve the desired effect; it teaches them that the biggest, most powerful person always wins, and to not get caught.  No wonder that big, powerful teens sometimes turn the tables.  Research is starting to bear this out, by the way.  I raised a perfectly good 20 year old on one spanking.  Another story.

3.  Expect the best from your child.  Okay, we learned this from our parents.  Their expectations from us were formed by their knowledge of our capabilities.  The child who had real problems with math concepts was not expected to bring home an A; the child who learned readily was expected to bring home all A’s. 

4.  Don’t just talk about loving your children- show it.  Hard lesson.   Yelling I-Love-You-This-Hurts-Me-More-Than-You, punctuated by lashes of the belt, doesn’t get that message across.  Generosity with your time and attention, physical affection, letting your child know they are a valuable family member and you enjoy being around them…that says love. 

5.  If you are a parent, grow up.  Being a parent means your child’s welfare and best interest comes first.  Period.  You may not  use drugs, quit your job precipitously, fail to bring home groceries, stay out late without making adequate provisions for your child, choose to buy porn instead of children’s books, expect the school to take care of your child’s fever or sprained ankle.   You may not allow your child to take care of you.  You will be a parent every day. 

6.  Set an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance in your household.  How do you expect your child to interact with the rest of the world?  Do you want them to consider other people as inferior?  Do you want your child to judge them based on their race or gender or sexual orientation?  Do you want your child to be able to peacefully co-exist with their classmates and co-workers?  Then they have to learn that at home.  Stop with the racial slurs and stereotyping and blonde jokes.  Invite people of all backgrounds into your life so that your children see them up close and know them as individual human beings.  Take your child out of your neighborhood and out of your comfort zone. 

7.  Get medical care for your child.  Don’t let your own discomfort with needles or dental work prevent you from following public health guidelines.  Don’t make your child a victim of the latest fad, such as not getting immunizations because you fear autism.  Let your child see you having discussions with the health care provider about care.  Help your child to know what things are emergencies and what things can be handled at home with a kiss and a Band-aid.  Be an example by getting proper care for yourself. 

8.  Expose your child to new foods.  Cook and buy variety.  It is a handicap to go into society with limited likes and a reluctance to try new things. 

9.  Don’t stay in abusive relationships.  It has been proven again and again that witnessing abuse, even if you are not the target of it, produces lifelong changes in behavior, including  increasing the likelihood that your child will grow up to become either a victim or a perpetrator.   

10.  Let the youngest child capable of a task be the one to perform it.  This makes the younger children learn and grow and feel valuable.  It lets the older child know that you appreciate her greater knowledge and ability.

11.  Listen to your child.  They have important things to say.  They need to run their thoughts and experiences by you.  Your voice is not the only important one in the home.

12.  Listen to objective voices.  If family members or teachers are saying they notice traits that are a problem, don’t let your love for your child send you into denial.  Investigate.  Get professional evaluations.  Don’t deprive your child from being all he can just because you don’t want to face the truth.

13.  No–No 13!  This is enough for one day.  Take a break.  I don’t have to write like the house is on fire.  I’m going to live a long time. 


Sister Stuff

I had a bonding experience with one of my sisters yesterday.  She came over to use my computer.  She was preparing a work-related presentation, and she had to type several pages of handouts and notes and copy them for her audience.  Then she had to practice the presentation, and I was her first practice audience.  During her visit we managed to catch up on family news, share a meal, and enjoy some silliness. 


I’ve probably mentioned that only one of my sisters is close to my age-the youngest was born just 11 months after me.  My mom called us her “old age babies”, because there was a ten-year gap between her earlier four children and us afterthoughts.  The upshot of that is that the older girls frequently entertained us and taught us various skills.  I distinctly remember learning knitting, reading, and braiding from various sisters.  The sister who came yesterday had the best sense of humor of all the girls.  She knew how to tease and joke and make a situation lighter.  She still uses that in the care of my elderly parents, and I could see it in her presentation yesterday.  I’ll never forget how convincing she was in telling me and my baby sister about the origins of dandruff.  She had us convined that little dandruff men knocked on our scalps when we were sleeping and asked if they could live in our hair.  She had special bedtime skills that we younger ones benefitted from until she was out of high school.  When she put us to bed, she would smooth our sheets very carefully to get all the wrinkles out, then wave the top sheet over us gently so that it billowed out and fell gently onto our bodies, making a soft breeze.  To this day, if I’m having trouble sleeping, I will get out of bed and smooth all the wrinkles from my bottom sheet. 


My mother was adamant that the older sisters not be burdened by the birth of the “afterthought” babies, so she hired a German maid to do the housework so that she (my mom) could focus on caring for the two babies.  Daddy was stationed in Germany at the time, and it is the only time my mother had regular household help until they were quite advanced in years.  She was unusual in allowing the older ones in our large family to continue to have their childhood and their freedom from caring for the younger ones.  That left us all in the unique position of being able to be friends later in life with no resentment on the part of the elders.  Despite that, depending on the issue we’re discussing, we will either claim to be from a totally different gene pool (found in the commissary, as my mother used to tell us), or the “real” children of the parents, denying our relationship to the other group of sisters. 


There seemed to be a natural trail of tattling that ran through the family.  One of my memories from early childhood is of playing in the sandbox with my sister and our friend, Rudy.  Somehow that sandbox play among four- and five-year-olds turned into a session of playing “doctor”, and Rudy and I were caught with our pants down.  We were caught by the sister I’ve been discussing.  She was only about 15 at the time, and didn’t feel equipped to give us a properly stern admonition, so she told my mother.  That resulted in some painful punishment, and I stayed angry at that sister a long time.  I couldn’t stay angry at her into the summer, however, because she was the sister who would take us swimming. 


As often happens, we younger two idolized our older sisters and wanted to be a part of everything that they did.  My excitement about prom nights began with the oldest sisters.  We would watch them get dressed and have their hair done for the formal occasions, and then we little ones would ride in the car with our Mom to the prom site, and watch all the beautiful girls and their dates going into the event.  Of course, our sisters were always the prettiest.  I was tickled to see that my daughter, in her grade school days, had the same fascination with the neighborhood girls and their proms.  She would peep from behind the curtains to see the beaus in their tuxes approach the house, and the gorgeously-attired girls come out on their arms.  It continues.  When we moved to our current house, my daughter was starting 11th grade, so the little girls in our neighborhood came to hang out and see her in her prom dresses, and ooh’d and aah’d over her beauty.  Thank goodness some things seem to be a constant. 


Because my father was an officer in his Army career, my parents had many mandatory social occasions, and they thoroughly enjoyed them.  They also enjoyed being the host and hostess, so we saw them entertaining, too.  It was an event for us girls to watch Mama putting on her red nail polish, mascara and red rouge for a dress-up occasion.  She had beautiful clothes, usually custom made by a seamstress for her plus-size form, and after she sprayed Chanel No. 5 and slipped into her dress she was a sight to behold.  Usually Daddy was in dress blues for these fancier events, and they were a splendid-looking couple. 


Okay, I’ve been reminiscing up a storm.  You would think that I’d spent all day knitting and could afford to put down my sticks and while away the evening with family memories.  Nope.  I took my car for an oil change and then went on down the road for groceries today.  Haven’t touched a stick.  It’s time to get a little work done. 


Making the Day Normal

I cannot talk about lupus today. 

This afternoon my sister (one of the five) called me and talked.  She had a lot to say.  I put my phone on the speaker setting and carried it around with me while I put away groceries, searched through all my piles of unfiled/unhandled papers, tossed things into the mixed paper recycle, and paid some bills.  She didn’t require a lot from me.  I said “Yes” and “Oh my God” at the right times.  I was actually interested in her chatter, and it made my chores go so quickly.  I found a few pieces of paper that had been the object of tedious searching for a month. 

Altogether, three of the sisters contacted me today.  One wasn’t a conversation.  She sent me a picture message of another sister’s new hairdo.  This is when it’s cool having sisters, because really, who else would be interested?  We are an instant audience for each other’s weight loss victories, shopping bargains, and complaints about anything in life.  I have a date with another sister for tomorrow, to go have burgers at her favorite place.  I’ve been having Boca Burger lately and I think I’m ready for the real thing. 

This evening I made a salad.  When Dayna was young and I had no plan, we would make a salad out of whatever was in the house.  Tonight was an impromptu salad like that.  I boiled some whole wheat fusilli, made a bed of spring mix and diced fresh tomato, and microwaved a Boca Burger to crumble over it.  Everything, including the pasta, went into the bowl.  I sprinkled on some garlic powder, oregano and basil, and used Greek yogurt for the dressing.  Yayyy!  Salad!  saladandpie-004.jpg

Earlier today I exercised my new conviction that I don’t have to be cooking for someone else to make the good stuff.  I pulled out some frozen peaches, defrosted them by cooking with agave and Smart Balance, added some cornstarch (dissolved in cold water) and boiled a minute until it was thick.  Oh yeah, cinnamon went in, too.  I poured the whole mixture into a store-bought whole wheat pie crust (still partially frozen) and covered it with pieces of crust from the other pie.  I call that particular way of topping the pie a mosaic crust.  I find that the whole wheat crusts that I buy don’t hold together if I try to cut them in ribbons and make a woven crust, so I just go with it and use the random pieces that I peel out of the pan.  It cooked a bit too long and was bubbling out of the pan when I went to remove it from the oven.  None of these imperfections hurt the taste of the peach pie.  When I was a girl, I wondered how my mother could cook without openinga recipe book.  I understand now that, with experience, you develop a feel for the ingredients and you know how much tolerance there is for fudging the measuring.  I should call this random peach pie.peachpie.jpg

Some days you just cling to the things that make you feel normal.


Family Invasion

I thought I’d better tell you the current family circumstances in case I suddenly disappear and am never heard from again.  Two of my sisters are coming to town.  In fact, one arrived last night, and the other will come in tomorrow.  There are six of us, collectively known as the ___ girls, half in town and half scattered about the U.S. of A.  Whenever there is a critical mass of ___ girls in one town, things happen.  With possibly one exception, we are not quiet.  Daddy has always said that the only problem with having six daughters is that they are very loud when they are together.  There are going to be many opinions expressed and explained and touted with certainty and devotion.  There will be competition.  Sisters will brag, some in that offhand, roundabout way that is intended to make you feel that no bragging is taking place, but that facts about genius and superhuman ability are just being recognized.  There may be crying and tissue throwing, and at some point, scripture will be quoted. 

My first reaction is to beat a hasty path out of town and hide out in a good hotel with an acceptable brand of coffee and 24-hour room service.  Unfortunately, keeping the right leg elevated is not consistent with driving.  I’m supposed to take my antibiotics and stay put.  I’ve toyed with the idea of being “too sick” to  answer the phone, but that would probably precipitate a visit to my door, and my car is clearly visible here.  Besides, I’m a sucker for any woman who stands on my front porch and pleads “Please let me in!  I have to pee!”  (Forget it, guys, you can pee anywhere.) 

There are things I would miss if I didn’t get together with the sisters.  The latest gossip, for one.  Some of the things we tell about our partners and our children and grandchildren are only told across a kitchen table, never in an email or on the phone.  I’d miss the jokes and insults, especially my opportunity to dish some out!  (“So you probably hadn’t had your medication when you got that orange streak put in your hair, hmmm?”)  I’d miss the babying.  I’m the next to the youngest and at least nine years younger than the next sister, and sometimes I like being treated “special”.  Hell, I am special!  And cute! 

Actually, I want to be with my sisters.  I read a book last year about a person who had the ability to become invisible, and as a child he always exercised this talent at family photo time.  I don’t want our children and grandchildren to look back and see me as the one who was missing from all the events, good or bad, the one who never contributed or argued or joked.  I would never want to be the invisible one in the family.  I want to wade into the muck and be elbow-to-elbow to the other ____ girls, holding my own in that enduring (if not endearing) family drama.  We have the advantage of having always been able to rally together and support one another, and get past any differences we may have.

Speaking of differences, although people think we look alike, we are really very different individuals.  We range from average height to super-short, looks- and fashion-conscious to oblivious to fashion, from graceful to awkward, from lilting sopranos to tone-deaf altos, and none of us chose the same career.  If I had to find the things in which we are similar, however, I would say that we all speak well, with good vocabularies and the ability to speak with confidence, and we all read a lot, two things that I think are related.  Both qualities were encouraged by my parents, as they thought it was important to be able to express oneself clearly and intelligently, without colloquialisms and grating accents.  They were both regular readers, and it was an activity that seemed natural in our home. 

Lord knows I have heard a million times that people with collagen vascular diseases should avoid stress.  My stress this time just happens to come from part of my support base, so I’m going to take a deep breath, carry some knitting with me at all times, and be with the sisters this weekend.  You will know if you see us-you can hear us coming.