One of my foundational memories as a kid was going through the automated carwash behind the convenient store near our house with my mom and my sister. We spent a lot of time perusing the aisles of that convenient store. I specifically remember that Leah would look for the candy with the strangest packaging- if you could spray the candy into your mouth or manipulate a rainbow hippo to pop a piece of gum out of it’s belly button, Leah was in. After collecting mom’s Diet Coke, whatever crazy concoction Leah had managed to find, and my chocolate and/or chips, we would pile back into the minivan and drive around to the boxy car wash in the back.
Surely you’ve been through one of these. You anxiously drive your car onto these grippy things on a track and then put your car into neutral so the giant mouth-shaped machine can drag your dirty Toyota through a series of jets, brushes, soapy things, along with other cleaning paraphernalia that look like some Muppets were conscripted into the dirty work of scrubbing the bird shit off your front windshield. Your clean car emerges from the dark cave, like a phoenix from soapy ashes.
Of course, there is one problem. Once you’re in, there’s no stopping. I’ve always found it quite relaxing- the pitter patter of the jets on the window, the big blue spongy thing whirring along the windshield.
Leah, however, was petrified. Now that I think about it, I don’t know why we went through the car wash so often. Perhaps my mother was doing some cognitive behavioral therapy- making my sister face one of her fears. One of my earliest memories was looking in the backseat and seeing Leah sitting in her booster seat, wide-eyed with tears dripping down her face. I crawled in the back and snuggled her, whispering assurances that it would all be over soon. I couldn’t stop the inevitable crawl through the scary car wash but I could sit with her while it was happening.
In my mind, comforting my sister in this way became one of my most important duties as Older, Wiser Sister.
I recently returned from a solo trip to Tennessee to visit my sister (and family). While I was sans children, Leah was up to her eyeballs in parenting her three little ones (4, 2.5 and 2.5). While the 4 year old is veering into definitely fun parenting territory, the twins are in their emo phase. With the pandemic restrictions on socializing, Leah and I agreed that the boys are a bit feral- communicating with screeches, yelps, and wails. One of them only talks in one volume (loud) and the other often forgets that he has words now to communicate his needs and wants and so uses very loud wailing to get his point across. We tried to take them on a walk and we got about a tenth of a mile before we turned around because one of them wanted to either crawl across the hot pavement like a snail or scream his head off, while the others insisted on trying to get hit by cyclists or taking a tumble down a very large hill while chasing ladybugs.
I say this not to criticize my niece and nephews. They are children and this is a phase that they will grow out of. I say it instead to emphasize that my sister has had the gargantuan task of keeping three littles alive and thriving during the hardest year many of us have ever survived. That she still has all of her hair and most of her sanity is a miracle rivaling the virgin birth, in my book.
I took my niece on a one-night adventure to a tiny house outside Nashville. We enjoyed our time together- hiking, eating pizza, watching movies, watching the bird in the birdhouse on our porch. We met up with Leah and the boys at a “beach” the next morning and did some cool shit, like throw some Lunchables on the ground and cry about it and push our brother off a log. Leah took the kids back for nap time and I returned to the tiny house to pick up a forgotten unicorn sleeping bag and a stuffed lamb that were integral to someone’s emotional health.
On my way back, Leah called and said that her husband, Tyler, had caught the fever the boys had had earlier in the week. All of the adults (including The Kid) in my family are vaccinated but The Baby isn’t yet so we’re still being very cautious. I wasn’t necessarily worried about Tyler having COVID but we never want to willingly expose my youngest to any illness that might land him in the hospital.
I drove up to my sister’s house to find her sitting on the stairs leading up to her kitchen door, weeping. I did actually put the car in park but I basically leapt out of the car like it was on fire, leaving my door open, and ran to her. She was sad. Sad that Tyler was sick, sad that I had to leave soon, sad that her children are sometimes ungrateful little cretins who scream and ask the same thing over and over into perpetuity, overwhelmed by the pandemic seemingly just ending without time for any of us to process the mountain of trauma, just sad.
We clutched each other and cried.
In that moment, as much as I wanted to, there was nothing I could do to get her off this ride. Life is like that, right? The wheels of time are hooked into the grippy things on the track and we’re being pulled along while life pummels us, with no option to exit when it gets to be too much. Supposedly we come out clean at the end but that doesn’t mean we have to enjoy the sanctification process.
So I climbed in the figurative backseat and held her while she cried, whispering that it will be over soon and it’s okay to be scared.
And she has done the same for me more times than I can count. Parenting for both of us has fucked shit up and sometimes we need to be held while we cry about not being able to stop this ride.
Even though we are both grown ass women, I still appreciate the time when I can comfort by sister and let her weep into my bosom and I know she feels the same when it’s her bosom being wept on.
What an honor and a gift to have a sister.
Love you, sissy.