I just returned from Fort Knox, Kentucky, where my sister is living on military post with her two babies while her husband is serving overseas in the army for the second time. Abby is my youngest sister, number seven of the nine children in our family. I am the oldest, and there is an age difference of almost ten years.
Abby was eight when I got married the first time. She was one of my bridesmaids and I remember her in her deep teal satin dress with her long french braids, with my other two sisters. She has reentered my life several times since that day I left home with my new husband to start our marriage on the opposite side of the country. She has memories of sneaking in my room and using my makeup, going through my things, and trying on my shoes. She has memories of playing house as sisters and probably a lot of me bossing everyone around, as the oldest child is prone to do. I think she has memories of my kindness to her. I think I was a good big sister. I have memories of her birth, and loving on another sweet baby with huge blue eyes and a full head of curls. The Afro. That's what we called it. She was beautiful. The picture above is of Abby and me in about 1985. I was twelve or so, and she was three.
I came home to NJ three years later with my new baby girl to surprise the family for Christmas. Abby was now just barely twelve and growing like a weed in that awkward preteen stage. She loved on my baby girl the way that I loved on her years before. She has always been a natural with babies. It was the next year that my parents split up and my mom and siblings moved to Mesa, around the corner from me. Abby was now a near-resident babysitter and was around more often to play with Lyndsay and even come late at night when my water broke and I went to the hospital to deliver Dylan.
A few more years passed, my husband and I moved to northeastern AZ, and Abby came to live with us during her 9th grade school year. My kids loved having "Aunt Wabby" with us and I enjoyed getting to know her all over again as a more grown-up person dealing with high school and insecurities and crushes on a certain boy named Jacob. She was the butt of many a practical joke at my hands, but always a good sport. I remember with side-splitting laughter the time we waited while she was in the shower soaping up and washing her hair before we shut the water off to the entire house for some plumbing repairs. From where we were standing in the yard, we could hear her scream in the shower. She had to rinse her hair outside, and it still cracks me up. Not so much her.
Abby came to my wedding in 2005 with her new husband, Orion, and pregnant with their first son. So, my visit last week was the first time I have seen her as a mommy with her own home and her own family. Her older son is 18 months, and her new baby boy is 7 weeks. Her husband left for Afghanistan five days after his premature birth. I am proud of her. She is patient and full of love for her babies, even though I know she is worn thin. Every day is spent going from baby to baby to baby (and then I came with another baby to add to the mix!) with rarely a moment to spare for breathing. But she has her routine and she is full of devotion to her little family. I could see that she does what I used to do in my early mommy days: set impossible to-do lists each day and then feel badly that even showering didn't happen, let alone painting the dresser. But she forges on with mostly optimism and a healthy sense of humor. I really enjoyed visiting with her, cooking for her, watching her, listening to her, even learning from her. And I can see that we have more in common than we have differences.
We gather strength as we go. Even hurricanes and tornadoes do. We can't be gale-force winds without first gaining our beginnings as a stirring breeze. Abby wrote in her blog that she felt inadequate at times by my ability to tackle several babies and other tasks simultaneously, seemingly effortlessly. But there is much effort and many years of practice behind anything that seems easy. Patience comes slowly. Wisdom even more so. Tested by adversity and struggle, we find reserves that would otherwise remain untapped. From where I stand now, just a decade further down the road, I see that principle as such a blessing. I also see Abby earning her crown, bejeweled by her demanding babies, tired body, sleepless nights, broken washing machine, lonely heart, and tapped out finances. All of this will pass. The strength stays, and is a testament that all was worth it in the end. Love you, sis!