Big Sister, Little Sister

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt

My first baby was born on July 22, 1985, and she was perfect. Big blue eyes, rosy little lips. It was like a sweet little angel from heaven had descended directly into my arms.

Well, sort of…

Okay, so I was actually only eighteen months old at the time.  Our big brother got to hold her first, but I still knew she was mine. Two years later another sister would come along, and the four of us were a tight little bunch. Yet Emily and I always shared a special bond.

We may have both been in diapers, but I was the big sister from the start. Everything that was mine was now hers, though I took some childish satisfaction in knowing that technically it had been mine first. It also meant that I got to be the “mommy” when our mom wasn’t there.

Because we were so close in age, Emily was my first passenger when I got my driver’s license. Our to-and-from school route represented some of our first forays into the world on our own. I was the driver with my hands locked at ten and two, and she was the DJ riding shotgun next to me. Every once in a while I hear a song that takes me right back to that magic school bus of freedom, and I wish for just a moment we could do it all again.

When we got home, my mothering kicked into gear. We both played on the tennis team, but I was always the one to fill the water bottles, get the rackets and then shout, “Come ON!” from the door. What would this kid do without me?

Our lives overlapped for two years in college which made the four-hour drives to and from campus that much more fun. We even spent one of those years as roommates, allowing us to slip right back into the familiarity of our childhood roles as big sister/little sister. (It would have made a great sitcom, now that I think about it.)

But as so often happens, growing up involved a certain disentanglement from family as siblings started leaving the nest, one by one, to pursue their own paths. Despite the fact that our lives diverged, distance has never been able to keep any of us apart.

Emily and I were on the phone recently, just chit-chatting and catching up, and she asked me what I was up to that morning. She was living in Chicago at the time, and I was anxious to hear about the glamorous things going on in the city. I tried to stifle my tendency to bore her with the tedium of suburban mom-talk, so I brushed it off dismissively: “Oh, you know...just the daily grind of motherhood.”

Her exasperated response caught me a little off guard: “Mary, I would love to make someone a PBJ! I just want to have somebody to take to soccer practice!”

We both laughed at the irony of our situation, each wanting a chance to lead the life the other was living. Somehow the grass is always a shade greener on the other side. I craved her unfettered freedom, and she desperately wanted a family of her own to care for.

I, too, am familiar with that yearning for motherhood, although it was under much different circumstances. Cancer and the radiation it required made a second pregnancy unlikely, if not unsafe. I had already been blessed with a son, but he was a big part of the reason a secret part of me longed for another child.

Daniel would never know the joy of having a brother or sister. He would never learn how to navigate the waters of a shared childhood, finding that perfect balance between sibling rivalry and brotherly love. I wanted to give him the gift of a friendship bound by blood; the kind that defies all logic and is so deeply rooted it remains unaltered by time and space.

At this point, it looks as if a sibling will not be a part of Daniel’s story. My husband and I explored having another child through surrogacy, but it turns out God has other plans for our family. We surrendered to His will without regret, but it reminded me how uniquely blessed I was to be born and raised alongside three lifelong friends.

Our phone call made me acutely aware of how easy it is for me to take my situation for granted. I often find myself grumbling through the daily duties of motherhood. I fall into the trap of looking to the future with longing rather than resting in the blessings of today. I too easily focus on things I once had and have lost or those that I wish would come sooner.

I think of all the aspiring mothers out there who are still waiting for their turn; the many women who are ready, willing, and able to serve but who have not yet been called into duty. I encourage my sister and others like her to be patient: God’s timing is always perfect.

In the meantime, Emily and I approach the inequity of our situation in the same manner we always have: by sharing. “Lulu,” as he calls her, is Daniel’s favorite aunt, sending him little presents and doting on him with a mother’s love as we await the day she has children of her own to cherish.

This past Mother’s Day weekend I focused on celebrating the here and the now, the many joys and challenges that make up the daily grind of motherhood. I’m called to embrace it as our Blessed Mother did: with open arms and a humble heart, generously sharing the blessing of her child with the world.