I am sure that if you were to ask my darling Melina what she thinks of being the "big sister" she would likely look my way cautiously and wonder just how honest she should really be! Let's face it, when you're four years older than your severely disabled sister and eleven years older than two toddlers and now a baby sister, that is not exactly what one would call a recipe for "happily ever after".
But Melina takes on this task with a rich measure of grace (most days)
She has recently turned fifteen and I THANK GOD that she has a level-headedness that I did not have at her age. I was unique in my own way back then but to think that if history were to repeat itself, she would be one month away from finding out she was pregnant...
Is it just me or is it getting hard to breath right now??
Instead, she can talk to me about unhealthy patterns of behaviour she seems to be drawn to in boys (ok, how many of us ADULTS can recognize this AND approach our relationships objectively??) and whether or not she recognizes that she is losing "who" she is in a relationship setting. Pretty astounding for a fifteen year old, if you ask me!
I still remember those early colicky days when nothing but the horrific rambunctious roar of James' heavy metal music would lull her to sleep. I remember the defiant "I DO IT!" and the endless hours of Barney. I remember finding her (after she had been a little too quiet) and her "James" doll covered by marker (face, lips, and tongue for that matter) as she looked at me and explained that she put makeup on. And then there was the pencil colours all over the apartment wall, the long trains she created with toys, cushions, boxes, etc... and there she was at the front, a buck naked conductor!
There were the smarties addiction when attempting to potty train, the tantrums in restaurants and mall, the wonderful looks strangers felt the need to give me given I was not even eighteen yet...
And yet, I knew I loved her more than anything in the world. She wouldn't let me cuddle up to her... EVER... but I trust she knew it in the ways that I taught her to use her imagination, to believe in herself, to take charge and solve whatever problems she had, and above all to LOVE no matter what.
The years have flown by and all too quickly I am looking back with yearning at moments I used to take for granted: the constant nagging to play, the begging to go for walks to the park, the bedtime tuck in sessions that would take nearly forty minutes of "unloading" about stuff in her life, etc... Even the hugs and kisses have dwindled and I remember that strange feeling in my stomach the first time I went to tuck her into bed only to have her turn around at the stairs to say "you know, I really don't need that anymore, mom. Thanks anyways."
And the realization that maybe she didn't need them anymore, but I did!
Was it so long ago that I would take those long hour walks down the gravel road, pregnant with this little person who would change so many lives, talking to her about my hopes and dreams of being her mother and the fears of not being good enough given my age. Those long walks when she would kick with delight as though she knew what was coming... or dreaded the non-stop verbiage that would spill forth over the next hour! The many times I picked up my guitar and rested it against the little space that was left on my lap to sing to her... to give her all that I could in my short sixteen years... would it be enough?
And then just before turning four, an unexpected turn of events with Isabel's early arrival and high medical needs. Oh how I missed her those days when every spare minute was spent at the NICU with Isabel who fought for her life. Time at home was spent trying to catch up on sleep and pumping milk for Isabel and talking to doctors on the phone. So much uncertainty, so many little triumphs celebrated in light of the fact that setbacks were expected in unexpected moments! And then the next couple of years filled with dragging her along to Isabel's doctor's appointments, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, feeding clinic, pediatric neurology, child development clinic, children's special services, children's rehabilitation centre, special equipment modifications, etc...
Not a single children's book that we read to her regarding the joys of becoming a big sister when I was pregnant covered what would be required of Melina as a "big sister". It seems as though a lot was sacrificed... and yet so much was gained.
Would the best of my intentions be enough?
And the young woman who stands before me today brings peace to the restless soul that questioned if i could do this. She is strong, beautiful, wise beyond her years and someone I LOVE talking to and listening to (although if you asked her, she would probably say that I need to practice more listening and do less talking). We are honest enough with each other and she can usually tell me if what she is about to share with me requires advice or is merely a "shut up and listen" venting session.
I have to admit, it's hard not to try and solve all her problems or to throw in lessons here and there (I'm working on it, my girl!) but in the end, I am so honoured any time she comes to me about anything.
And before I know it, she will be packing her things and starting her own life. I will walk by her old room and feel that same strange feeling as when she stopped at those stairs to tell me she didn't need to be tucked in anymore. I'll look into that empty space and pray for forgiveness for the moments I took for granted, and I will give thanks for those I captured and hold dear in my heart.
It is amazing how quickly the time, a life, can pass by your very eyes... and I am honoured to be witness to the story that is "Melina".