At my wedding in 2010

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a tendency to take the gifts in my life for granted.  I would love to say that I am always thankful and grateful, but the truth is I get caught up in the busyness of everyday life and forget just how much I love/am loved by some of the coolest people I know.  Seriously, I have a fabulous network of support that I rely on to help me get through this crazy thing called life.  The single most influential person in this network is my aunt Donna or, as I’ve always called her, Sis.

Sis is my “heart mother”, which is just a short way of saying that even though she didn’t give birth to me, she’s mothered me.  She is more than that, though.  She is the only person in my life that I know, really know, will love me forever…no matter what I do.  She might get angry, she might think I’m being stupid, but she will love me, always.  I know this partially because I feel it, but mostly because it’s the way I feel about her.

Dancing at my wedding with mom, Sis and Grandma. Sis is holding my hand. 🙂

In my thirty years on this earth, I’ve only had about a handful of profound moments and she’s played some kind of role in all of them.  The majority of my happy childhood memories are wrapped up in things we did together, things like make goofy tapes to send to family, go on nature walks and, of course, dance.

My love and appreciation for classical ballet began when she introduced me to the pretend world of “The Nutrcracker Suite”.  I fondly remember dancing around my grandmother’s dining room on my tiptoes, pretending to be the Sugar Plum Fairy… a role I later was able to play, thanks to Sis.  For over twenty years, our shared love nurtured our bond.  Even when we had rough patches, we had ballet.  Ballet was/is enough, but it wasn’t just that.  Ballet (and Sis, who was my teacher) gave me a self-confidence, positive body image, poise and more.  It allowed me an outlet and a rock when my family life was in turmoil.  Even now, when I haven’t danced regularly in years, I can not imagine my life without ballet (or her).  It is a part of me, just like she is.

She’s always been honest me, whether I wanted it or not and whether I listened or not.

One week, I told her that I was going to break up with my boyfriend.  The next week, when I came to her as a terrified pregnant seventeen-year-old and said, “I’m pregnant and we’re getting married,” she was the only one who responded with, “That’s dumb.”  The only one who thought that perhaps combining pregnancy, finishing high school, becoming an “official” adult and starting a marriage (with someone I had wanted to be free of only a week previous) was NOT a smart idea.  When I chose to get married anyway, four months later, she was my Matron of Honor and stood by my side with a loving smile on her face.  Almost ten years later, when it was obvious that marriage was no longer a healthy place for me and my children, she talked me through it and never once said “I told you so”.  Instead, she told me how she knew I’d worked so hard to make it work, how courageous and brave I was to get out and start over.

She’s been to three of my children’s births.

During my daughter’s birth, she dutifully massaged my feet and legs for hours without so much as a sigh.  It was the first time she’d ever left her own toddler overnight, a sacrifice I didn’t understand until I had my own needy toddlers.  She held my hand, told me I was not a failure for getting an epidural and later, when the nasty OB refused to let me leave for arbitrary reasons (even the nurses thought so), she initiated a group of strong ladies willing to surround me and walk me out of the hospital.

Rubbing my back during labor

For my first son’s birth, I was 1000 miles away.  Even though she wasn’t physically there, her picture and a phone call were helpful guides through the journey.  I desperately missed her support during that time.

My second son was born just minutes before she arrived, but her postpartum care of me was phenomenal.  She quietly and efficiently helped get the pool emptied out (which was right in the middle of our small living room), ran to get food from the kitchen for me to munch on when I got woozy and took care of the afterbirth while everyone focused on me and baby.  She cancelled her classes that day to take care of me, getting takeout and helping around the house.

My miscarriage caught me completely by surprise and the first person I thought to call after it happened was her.  Having been through it herself many times, she knew exactly what to say and, more importantly, what NOT to say.

Guiding B through the end of labor/the birth.

My third son’s birth was carefully planned out with each person having a specific role.  Hers was taking care of the toddler, because she is so excellent at dealing with very young children.  As I anticipated, he did fabulous with her and the baby was actually born while most of the children slept…which allowed her to be a vital part of the actual birth part.

These are just a few of the many, many gifts she’s given me.  Gifts that I can never, no matter how hard I try, repay.  Gifts of love.  I’ve been spending the last few years taking them for granted, assuming they’ll always be there.  They won’t, though.  Time goes by, seasons change and people don’t last forever.  But, the gifts they give do.  The gifts that were given to me allowed me to be a mother, a compassionate care giver to others, a good friend, a passionate change-maker.

I am a part of your legacy.  I am me because of you.  I love you, my Sis.