Saturday, May 14, 2011
My Sister at Thirty
Today, my "baby" sister has reached the milestone age of 30. Whoa. Hard to believe. I was not quite 9 and a half years old when she was born. When a lot of people hear about the age gap between her and I (my brother is only 14 months older than me), the bolder ones ask if she was an "oops." Nope. My parents were young when my brother and I were born. Dad was 22 when I was born, and an E-5 in the USAF. He got out of the Air Force in the mid-1970s to enroll at the University of Kansas. I started Kindergarten there. With college and an ROTC program, as well as a young family to provide for, there was no way to expand the family. I remember eating macaroni and cheese with spam a lot in those days when dad was a college student. I don't remember being poor, but I remember other children in the neighbourhood being poor and my family was nothing like theirs. In retrospect, I think it has to do with the value of education my parents had: my dad in college and my mom learning on her own, adjusting to her adoptive country.
With college behind him and a new career as an Air Force officer, my parents were able to afford a new addition to the family. I was happy about the news my parents told me that mom would have a baby. I prayed every day for a baby sister. I figured that since I already had a brother, a sister would be nice. My parents picked names: Nathaniel Jackson if the baby was a boy, Melissa Mae if the baby was a girl. The doctor told my mom to expect another boy. This was in the days before ultra-sound. We were living on Hill Air Force Base, Utah at the time. Our backyard in base housing had a view of Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. Utah is known as the "Beehive State" and the name Melissa means "Little Honeybee." How appropriate!
On May 14th, at several minutes after 7 p.m., my sister was born. I had to spend the night at my mom's friend's house. She was a Thai lady with a son nicknamed "Gope", which means "Frog" in Thai. The son didn't seem to mind the nickname "Gope", but he got mad at me when I revealed at school that his name means "frog." I didn't get to meet my sister until a day or two after she was born. I was so excited to meet her, that when I first saw her in the window at the hospital, I was actually disappointed because she wasn't as excited to meet her older brothers. She was sleeping!
When she came home, things were fun. I thought she was the cutest baby, ever. I still believe that, because I have never seen a cuter baby than my sister. When our family went on evening walks and we met other families walking their babies, I would always compare and think in my mind that none of them were as cute as my little sister. There were things she did that made us think how intelligent she was. For example, as a baby, she knew what "sweet eyes" meant. Everytime we would say that phrase, she would squint her eyes in such a way that we thought was cute or sweet. There are some pictures of her with puffy cheeks that I call the Boss Hogg look (after the sheriff on the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard). Also, she had a bodysuit with a pointy hood that made her look like Smurfette. So adoreable. One of my favourite photos of her (which I don't have) was during her first Halloween. Dad had dressed as Frankenstein, handing out candy and he carried her in one arm. She looked so brave in his arms. Even trick-or-treaters commented on how brave she was.
When we moved to Omaha, Nebraska at the end of summer in 1982, she saw a huge, round, golf-ball looking facility on Offutt Air Force Base and kept saying, "A ball! A ball!" I knew my sister was smart, and likely to be the smartest of the three of us (I do think she is smarter than me in a lot of ways, but I'm more independent minded when it comes to spirituality). Having older brothers insured that she was going to learn a lot at a younger age. For instance, I don't remember liking music until 1978, when I was in Kindergarten ("Grease" was the first song that I really loved. To this day, I can be transported back to the feelings of childhood whenever I hear that song!). My sister was around two or three years old when she fell in love with "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper. She wanted to be Cyndi Lauper! And she even claims to remember that part of her life, the same time that she went through a phase where she wore the same red dress every day until it was in tatters. I guess, better Cyndi Lauper than Madonna!
As an older brother, I teased her mercilessly for her love of Barbie (which my dad had sworn that he would not buy for her), the Care Bears, Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony, and the dinosaurs of Land Before Time (particularly the phrase "We'll always be together!", which I said in a very mocking, sarcastic style). At church was another family that included a boy my age (he was the Scoutmaster's son and made my Scouting experience a real hell) who had two younger sisters, one of whom was just a year older than my sister. Her name was Linda Gail. As my dad compared Linda Gail to my sister, Linda Gail was "rough but not tough" and Melissa was "tough but not rough." I loved that comparison between the two. Unfortunately, though, Linda Gail had a corrupting older brother. He made her listen to his heavy metal music, which I thought was inappropriate. However, it was funny to hear Linda Gail at church go up to people and say, "Bark at the moon!!" (an Ozzy Osbourne reference). The middle sister was a positive influence on Linda Gail, who also liked the Thompson Twins (she would sing, "Doctor, doctor, can't you see I'm burning, burning!").
In my relationship with Melissa, I was often the protective older brother, who calmed my sister down when we had to stay at an evening child care place when my parents went somewhere for an official function. My sister would constantly cry for our parents, to the frustration of the care facilitators, so they would ask me to come in and calm her down. I don't think I was able to, as she had a strong attachment to our parents, and to this day is the closest of the three children to our parents. There were times when our brother's temper would scare her and I would have to come between them and protect her.
She turned ten years old when I was nearing the end of Basic Training. Then I was gone for three long years when I was stationed in Germany. Three years is a long time for a kid, so I can't imagine what that's like. She was a teenager when I returned home. I was in college when she graduated from high school, and because I had failed my biology course and did not make up for it until 2006, she got her bachelor's degree before I got mine. Then she got her master's degree in 2007 in elementary education. Now, she had learned a few weeks ago that she was accepted into a competitive graduate degree program in psychology. See? She's smarter than me, because she's able to continue an advanced education. I was so disillusioned with my college experience that I don't ever want to go back to school. I love learning, but I don't like the agenda that is pushed on students, nor the debt burden. I look forward to hearing how studies will go. From what our dad told me, 200 people applied for 30 slots. The 30 who were accepted will go through the entire program together, so you can bet friendships will form from that kind of bond. I have no idea what she hopes to do after that, nor do I know how open she is to Jungian approaches to psychology and the archetypes that fall into "The Hero's Journey" motif. If I was a psychologist, I would definitely use "The Hero's Journey" as a way to help patients.
In May 2009, my sister got married, which was an emotionally difficult day for me. Its not easy to see a much younger sibling get married before you. Two church members in the Pacific Northwest also saw their younger siblings get married before them and admitted to feeling a sense of being "cheated" out of the birth order way of things. However, they were married shortly after their siblings got married (incidentally, the brother of one actually did marry the sister of the other). No such luck for me. Thankfully, no one at the wedding said anything to me about being single. I know people wonder, though, because whenever people meet me and ask about my family, as soon as I mention a brother and a sister, the #1 question I'm asked is: "Are they married?" I hate that question because I view it as a sly way of questioning why I'm still single.
Most people are conformist minded, so marriage is the natural state of things. Coupling up is so expected that when someone doesn't, for whatever reason, people will wonder what's wrong with them, wonder about their sexual orientation, or even accuse them of not being willing to "grow up" and accept the responsibilities of adulthood. They don't even think that maybe its more difficult for some people than it is for others. Since 1998, I've met three ladies whom I would have loved to be married to, but none worked out the way I had hoped. My fault? Perhaps I'm just cursed. I'm glad that my sister is not. I loved her wedding, even though it was the most emotionally difficult experience I had to undergo. Hopefully, my time will happen by December 2012 at the very latest.
Most of all, I hope that my sister was a far better 30s than mine was. My 30s was filled with debt, disillusionment, disappointment, and death. Maybe something great will click on as soon as I turn 40, so that I can finally experience abundance, a love relationship, a more meaningful career, and fatherhood. Like I said, my sister is the smart one of the three siblings. May this lead to great things!
In honour of her birthday, the following music video is my tribute to her. As a young girl, she took a liking to this song, "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You" by a teenage singer from Hawaii, Glenn Medeiros. She didn't know the name of the song or the singer, so she would always call it the "17 teenager song" (I had told her that it was sung by a 17 year old teenager). I love this song, especially the sweet saxophone. The title is also true. Nothing's gonna change my love for my sister. I can't imagine how our family life would have been the past 30 years without her in it. She brought so much laughter and intelligence, compassion and even "drama." Here's to many more decades of great experiences for our family. Happy 30th, sister!