Sunday, July 1, 2012

One year later

Psalm 67:1-2 (NIV)

May God be gracious to us and bless us
   and make his face shine on us —
so that your ways may be known on earth,
   your salvation among all nations.
I try not to recycle myself too much on this blog, but I’ve been going around and around trying to settle on a topic for today and I keep landing back in the same place.

One year ago today, my little sister moved to California. She’d been planning the move for several months. About two weeks beforehand her boyfriend flew out to Illinois to help her prepare for the trip, visit his family, have a monster going away party and, on a July Sunday much like today, go to church, head over to my parents’ house, pack up an absurd amount of vegan sandwiches, load a blue Toyota Corolla to maximum capacity, pose for dozens of photos and back down the driveway on her way to a new life hours and hours away from all of us.

This was not easy for most of us.

As coincidence would have it, Kim is back in town again this week. She had a wedding to attend Saturday, so she flew in late Tuesday and leaves Monday afternoon. In between we are trying to jam in as much family time as possible. That means a Friday afternoon movie with Jack, sleepovers with each of our older boys, family dinners and simply trying to be present as much as possible.

Kim came back around Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter. While I am always thrilled when she comes and sad when she goes, something about this being the anniversary of her departure has made me more wistful than usual. I’ve also, for a number of reasons, been doing a lot of thinking the last few days about the boys as brothers. Most of it has been independent of my own role as a sibling, but maxing out the family time will make you consider your place in the big picture.

(A side note: one of my favorite things about children as they grow is observing as they grasp the way extended family relationships work. They understand their parents and their siblings, but it takes a certain degree of cognitive ability to accept your mom and dad have their own parents and siblings, especially since they have already come to learn those people in the roles that relate to them — grandparents, aunts and uncles. Of course, one of my least favorite things is when the children reason the family tree is incomplete because certain relatives are no longer with us. I take such joy in sharing with my kids with the relatives I do have, it can be pretty sad to consider the people they’ll never meet — on this planet, anyway.)

Matt, Kim and Scott at Kim's going away party.
And so as we prepare for one more big Sunday dinner and a sleepover with Max and probably lunch tomorrow, I am sad to think of Kim again leaving the Midwest for the Bay Area. I won’t be the one to take her to airport, and we’ll be spared the heavy visual imagery of the entire family standing in the driveway while a luggage-laden car with Wisconsin plates backs away and heads West. And as much as I enjoy the way her visits have become high points of the year because we simply immerse ourselves in each other, well, it’s not the same as it used to be and it likely never will.

But that’s okay. People grow, things change for many reasons. What matters is how we adjust and move forward, and our family tends to be pretty good at looking on the bright side and making the best of most situations.

All that said, here are a few paragraphs I wrote last July the day my little sister moved to California.
Dear Kim:

To some extent, I wrote the contents of this message in the book at your going-away party Saturday. But I’m not sure how long it will take for that book to get to you at your new home in California, so I’m taking this chance to send along some thoughts, happy and otherwise.

I probably think of you now more as Aunt Kim to Jack, Max and Charlie than as a sister to me, but having kids kind of shifts your entire world-view to where you see nearly everything and everyone in terms of how they relate to your children. At least that’s how it’s been for me. But in saying that, I realize you wouldn’t be the wonderful aunt you’ve become without having a true appreciation for the value of family — being a good sister to me has made you a fantastic aunt to my kids, and vice versa. You are on a very short list of incredibly special people in Jack’s life. Not to sell short the relationships you have with Max or Charlie (as much as any nonparent can have a “relationship” with a kid that tiny), but I know there’s something special with Jack, and I’ll never be able to fully explain how much that means to us as parents... even if we get to be an aunt and uncle ourselves some day.

Jack does not like to say goodbye.
You can only be an aunt to so many people, however, and the number is entirely beyond your control. What you can control is your other relationships. Thinking back to the party yesterday, I could count three to five people who might describe you as their best friend — and each one of them would be right. That you’ve been able to be such a positive influence to so many other people says something remarkable about the kind of person you are and have become, and I could not be more proud to have you as my little sister. You are so many things I am not and could never be, and I’m sure I had absolutely no appreciation for any of that while we lived under the same roof.

And it’s because of how I see you in this light that I am absolutely thrilled for you to embark on this new adventure. Someone who has so much to give to other people deserves to have a relationship like the one you’re developing with Micah. Without putting any undue pressure on anything or anyone, I know from my almost 13 years with Kristie what it means to have a true partner in life. I saw it in both sets of our grandparents, and I know we all see it in Mom and Dad. I give thanks every day for having such a person in my life, and it makes me so happy to see you and Matt starting out in these healthy, adult relationships absolutely brimming with potential. Of course we will always have each other as siblings, but we all know there can be more to life and love. It’s been modeled for us on a daily basis.

So now that I’ve met Micah a little bit and started to realize how fantastic he is, I’m bummed he lives in California, too. Here I thought I’d just be missing you. Now I can’t wait for you both to come back for a visit. I’m not necessarily in a hurry for either you or Matt to start living my kind life (remember, by the time I turned 26 I’d been a dad for 16 months) — in fact, if anything I give you both credit for taking the chances you’re taking now, to throw yourself into life and see if what you want is all you hope it will be. That’s exactly what I did with marriage and fatherhood, which, it could be argued, is no less an adventure than changing careers or moving all the way across the country. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but I’ve never regretted taking those first steps.

We both know one can be a fantastic aunt without being geographically close. Just think of all those birthday cards we got as kids — and still to today — from Aunt Beth, who never forgets a milestone, no matter how small. And the chances we have to get together in person are cause for celebration. You could do worse than to follow her example, and it would be hard to do much better. Of course, you could move back closer to home and be my emergency backup babysitter, too, but something tells me that’s not at the top of your list. Close, perhaps, but not the top.

There’s many more things to say, I’m sure. Goodness knows I’ve puzzled over them myself as I got ready to say goodbye today, and surely your mother and your other brother (Pops, too) have their own reasons for why it was so hard to watch you roll down the driveway en route to a new chapter. We know where you’re going physically, but no one knows where life will actually take you. It gives us enough to ponder as interested observers — we’re not the ones who packed up all our worldly possessions in a little blue car and headed to San Francisco. It’s hard for us to say goodbye and watch you leave, I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be the person who watches the life she knows get smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror. But off you go, into tomorrow and whatever that means. We all love you enough to be happy beyond words for you as you go, and we also will never feel quite complete as long as you are away. We’re family, and you’re stuck with us, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s been a big year of adjustments for Kim — and all of us, really. I don’t need to get too deep into it now, everyone with families had a busy year in one way or another. I guess all I have to say is I love my sister, I love how much she loves my kids and if you have someone like that in your life, too, whether they live a few minutes away or on the other side of the country, well, you’re pretty lucky. And you should let them know how much they mean to you.

A prayer for July 1:

Lord, I thank you often for my children. Today I thank you for each of them as individuals and also for the bonds they have with each other. I thank you for grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends so close they feel like family. When I am awash in the love of such people, I am reminded you are the one from whom all blessings flow, who puts all things into being and who allows us this chance to experience on Earth the tiniest taste of what your love for us truly means. It is a humbling, uplifting and all-encompassing joy, and I am ever thankful. Amen.

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