Thursday, September 19, 2013


I was thinking the other night about how good my sisters, and all my siblings, really, have been to our family as we've been jumping hurdles the last couple years, and getting back on our feet.

My oldest sister, as I have often mentioned, always remembers us.  When we lived far away, she sent packages to the kids for every birthday and holiday, often filled with hand-made goodness she and her kids had crafted for us.  She still remembers every birthday, with generous presents, despite the fact that we are admittedly not as good at remembering and reciprocating.

When I was about at the lowest point I got to in the unemployment fiasco,  feeling far from my family, broke, nervous, stressed and depressed, I walked out to get the mail and found a card from my other big sister, expressing her love and concern, and a Visa gift card to use on whatever we might need.  The money was very, very much appreciated, but the thoughtfulness saved my sanity at a key moment.

When we made the decision, shortly thereafter, to move to Montana, I got an email from my sister-in-law, expressing that she understood how hard it must be to move, and what some of the challenges would be in moving back, but reminding me how much she loved me, how excited she was to see me, and what a great support system there was there.

A few days later, I got an email from my sister explaining that my sisters had wanted to make sure that my kids were included in the cousin Christmas present exchange (we always have the kids draw a cousin's name to buy a present for), but didn't want us stressing about the cost, so they'd pick up the kids one night and take them shopping for the presents so Doug and I could have a night off.

Did I mention that, on top of all that, my wonderful, brave Keilana who had been so sweet during the time that mommy and daddy were so stressed, and never asked for a thing, and never once complained about what we ate (even when it was really, really boring and really, really repetitive), and was so brave about leaving all her friends and the only home she'd known, desperately wanted an American Girl doll for Christmas that year?  Nearly all of the presents we gave the kids that year were homemade, mostly with supplies we already had or could scrounge up from friends and family.  I saw no way the doll was even a possibility.  My oldest sister's daughter had drawn Keilana's name in the present exchange, and insisted that they use some of the money they'd made at their end-of-the-summer yard sale to get Keilana the doll of the year--a little Hawaiian doll.  She loves that doll.  Nearly 2 years later, she sleeps with it every night, takes it on every trip, and its her favorite thing to play with.

When I expressed some minor annoyance that my phone breaking on the way up to Montana meant that I had no iPod, my brother brought me one.  He had two, so he cleared one and gave it to me.  When Doug finally got a job and was living away from us during the week, taking our one functioning computer with him, I asked if anyone had recommendations for a decent keyboard that would work with our iPad.  My sister just ordered one of the ones she liked from amazon and had it sent to me.

My other sister constantly spoiled my kids, often taking my little girls just to give me a break, buying Kylie leggings and giving her shoes, and sending Doug and I out on dates.

The most amazing part of all of this?  None of it was a big deal, to any of them.  They've never mentioned it and seemed genuinely glad to do it.  That's just who they are.

People have sometimes expressed a bit of amazement or disbelief that our family is close and gets along well and is kind.  And while I think there is a bit of divine providence involved in the wonderful family we have, to dismiss it all as luck would be a great disservice to my parents, and grandparents.  My siblings are those people largely because my parents are those people.

I mentioned that I needed to get a hard drive to store scans of family records/photos/letters.  Thanks to my dad and amazon, one showed up on my door step a few days later.  He's always doing things like that.  I remember when I was 20, I was home in Montana because my Grandma was dying, and I had come from warm, coastal California with my 4-month-old completely unprepared for the Montana November weather.  I mentioned, in passing, to someone else, that I needed to find a bunting or something for her.  The next day, Dad came home from some shopping with a brand new, cute little pink fuzzy bunting and said, "Is this the kind of thing you were talking about?"  Last summer, as we were getting moved, I asked if anyone knew where we could get some milk crates.  He asked what I needed them for, and I explained that I was going to stack them and lash them together to put kids' clothes in for now, rather than buy dressers.  The next day he showed up with two of the big cube organizers you can buy at Home Depot and a bunch of the fabric drawers that go in them, and said, "Will these work?"

My mom is always meeting needs before they've even occurred to me, and then some.  She's always happily serving her kids and grandkids, and its never a big deal.  She just quietly takes care of things.  Most people aren't as generous and attentive to their own parents as she has been to her mother-in-law. I'm pretty sure that she's gone on about twice as many ambulance calls as anyone else who has ever been on the crew, mostly as a volunteer--on her own time, without pay.  As an adult, its easy to look back and realize all the ways my mom made sacrifices for us.  Its a great credit to her that, growing up, unless we were really paying attention, it would've been very easy for kids, being naturally self-focused, to miss that. There was never any stress directed at us, there was never any martyrdom, she never seemed put upon.  She was just a mom, happily taking care of, and taking an interest in, her kids.  She helped my brothers buy guitars and went to our band concerts.  She paid athletic fees and tried to make it to as many football games, volleyball games and track meets, and softball games as she could.  She and Dad both took us on trips, and to museums and historical sites and anywhere else that might be interesting to us.  She did all she could nurture our interests.

And my parents did all those things for us while very actively serving extended family and the community.  My grandparents were much the same.  My parents--talented, intelligent, and educated--chose a "small" life, one that allowed us to grow up in a way where our grandparents and extended family were part of our daily life, where community involvement was necessary to keep our small community humming along.  We saw all that.  We saw them going on ambulance calls, helping put together PTA plays, creating whole new educational programs from scratch, and the list goes on and on.  They expected us to be kind to each other, not by yelling at us when we weren't, but by teaching us to calmly solve problems and settle disputes.

My siblings and I are not all alike.  We don't all see eye to eye on everything.  All our priorities are not necessarily the same.  But my parents did a wonderful job of teaching us, by example, that nothing is more important that family, and that families are best built through generosity, both of means and of heart.  I could never possibly express enough gratitude for those lessons, but I do hope that I can improve in "paying it forward", and in teaching my children the same, so that one day they will have in each other the tremendous support system that I have in my brothers and sisters.

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