Happy Birthday! You must be feeling really old now that you have a mortgage to pay. Congrats on the new home!
You know, I realized I haven’t really written you one of my signature, sappy letters since your college graduation. How pitiful is that. So I decided to stop being such a slacker sister and drop you a line or two or fifty or four hundred and sixty-three (I do tend to ramble).
Recently a friend’s mom congratulated me on this pregnancy. She told me, “I come from a family of six kids, and the best gift you can give your kids is the gift of siblings.”
I thought of how Rae and Madeline are really starting to interact together. Sometimes the interaction involves grabby arms reaching for some silly toy and high-pitched screaming from the baby coupled with Madeline’s pleas, “Mommy, she won’t share with me.” But most of the time – at least for now – I watch as they play side by side at the toy kitchen, or as Madeline “reads” a board book to Rae, and I’m so thankful they have each other.
I’m certainly thankful I have you and I do consider you one of the greatest gifts Mom and Dad gave me. You’re a great brother and now a wonderful godfather to Madeline and uncle to all my children. I’m also well aware that the kind of relationship we share is somewhat unusual. I mean, I’ve often called you before any of my girlfriends when I’ve been faced with a dilemma or have just wanted to chat.
Maybe it’s because we’re only 18 months apart. Maybe it’s because I never had a sister, so I had no choice but to share my secrets with you. Or maybe it’s because you were the only person alive who would tolerate my histrionics and hearing about all the sufferings I endured from the boy-who-must-not-be-named back in college. Whatever the case, I consider you one of my closest friends. I always have. Mom recounts stories of us playing for hours as little ones with a toy kitchen sink beneath the deck back in Illinois. I vaguely remember coercing you to play school with me. Later I remember us setting up our “office” in the basement (what was our business anyway?) or playing with your Lego pirates’ set. When we were older, I think of all our long talks about faith or love or both.
Looking back on our years together, I realize that in some ways I’m like the younger sibling because I look up to you. You’ve always been someone I’ve admired. Here are a few reasons why:
• Your optimism. I’ll never forget in high school when I asked you if the weird breakout on your back that the dermatologist was taking care of bothered you. You looked me straight in the eye and said, “Well, I don’t like it. Sometimes I get embarrassed when I have to change for team sports, but then I think about how lucky I am. I think about kids with cancer or kids who can’t walk and realize that I have nothing to worry about.” I’ve often wondered how many teenagers who are often so vain and caught up in their own problems would subscribe to that line of thinking. You’ve always been able to look on the bright side and to recognize that there’s someone far worse off than you. I know few people (Mom being another one) who have the capability to consistently look beyond yourself and the situation at hand.
• Your generosity. Dad is one of the most generous people I know and you must have inherited his giving genes because you’re always so quick to give to others. Whether it’s treating friends to dinner or picking out a thoughtful and generous holiday gift, you don’t let the balance of your banking account keep you from sharing what you have with others. You error on the side of generosity always, always. But you’re not just generous with your pocketbook. You’re generous with your time and your heart as well. How many nights did I spend sobbing in your bed in college after my heartbreak while you rested on the hard floor beside me? How many times have you gone out of your way to help out someone in need – whether it was to watch Madeline for me (and thus, ruin any chances of meeting a girl while you were out since everybody assumed she was your daughter) or to rearrange your schedule so you could drive Mom somewhere she needed to be? Most people talk about how family and friends come first, but they don’t always live it. You do. Your money and your own time are great, but they’re not worth more than the people you love.
• Your loyalty. Another memory: You came home from school and confessed to Mom that you’d thrown your first punch. This was so out of character, so she wasn’t mad. Instead, she listened to the why behind the fist throwing. It turns out someone on the bus called a peer a very racial derogatory name and you wouldn’t put up with it. You’re like that: You’re very patient and easy-going with most things (except when it comes to Notre Dame football, the Cubs, and some of your other favorite sports teams), but you don’t tolerate people hurting others. Then there’s a certain loved one. When all of us had to shut him out of our lives, you were there for him. He needed to hit rock bottom. We needed to release him into God’s care, but perhaps you’re standing by him offered him a glimmer of hope and was what pushed him to seek help. If not that, you were the one who fed him when he could no longer afford groceries, again living a life of generosity. Finally, your loyalty to me and to my vocation as a wife and mom has touched me deeply. I know many of your peers just don’t get women who stay at home with kids. You’ve heard people say we don’t have much of a life. You don’t keep quiet out of social politeness. You speak up and say the two women you admire the most are at-home moms (Mom and me) and you always encourage me in my vocation by sending emails praising me for the work I’m doing in my children’s lives. I’m not sure you can possibly know how much those words of encouragement mean to me. As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’ve always been someone who likes to achieve. Now that I’m not in the workforce or in school, I don’t get grades or paychecks, and sometimes I long for kudos or some kind of measurement that says I’m living up to the task. Who would think that the person who often gives that to me is my little, sports-obsessed brother? Thank you, Josh. Thank you for making me feel like a great mom and reminding me that I’m doing the most important job in the world.
Other than these admirable traits, I love your sense of humor. You’ve always been able to make me laugh even when I’m the hapless target of your teasing. You love life, Josh. It’s so clear by the way you live it. I’m so thankful my children have such a positive force in their lives. Madeline once told me, “Uncle Josh is so much fun!” And you are, but you’re so good, too.
Happy birthday! Thank you for being a great brother and a true friend.
Your Big Sis
p.s. So sorry about the Cubbies. I hate to say it, but maybe next year. Like you said, every team has a bad century, right?
p.s.s. I’ve always loved these photos of you “teasing” Ma and Pa. They’re so you.