Friday, October 24, 2014

Barbie & Skipper: Lessons About Ken(s) and the Dream House That Requires More Than Just Assembly

My parents went above and beyond the call of duty in raising me. I'm sure they were presented with more than enough opportunities to "accidentally" leave me in a grocery store or shopping mall and just "forget" to come back and retrieve me. I commend them for their patience. I apologize for the therapy bills I know they are currently paying.

But what my parents never did was bless me with a little sister. A little brother? Yes. A Lego-leaving-Nerf-gun-shooting-booby-trap-setting-matchbox-car-throwing-brother. This "little" brother grew to be an entire foot taller than me. He's now married with a mortgage and a steady job. He doesn't look to me for advice, help or instruction. To put it simply, "he's all done." My work, although mostly comprised of dodging his weapons, laboring through the pain of stepping on hundreds of Legos and enduring the embarrassment of his presence while entertaining a boy, is through.

I always wanted a little sister though. Laura Ingalls Wilder had Carrie and Grace. The entire Babysitter's Club consisted of girls with little sisters. And the bond between Barbie and Skipper was something that I envied. Please note that I do have an older sister of course. The one who got the cool clothes that were eventually handed down to me. The one who could drive, date, pierce and tattoo long before I could. (Let's be honest-I'm not saying that boys were lining up around the block to have a chance date with Kristen but if they were they had to wait until I was a senior or Jonathan Taylor Thomas returned my love letters with a "no.")

So how lucky was I when at the age of 22 I was introduced to an 8th grade girl who was looking for a "big sister" role model. Someone to tell her about boys. About parties. About the cool things in life of which I knew nothing about because I was NOT that kid growing up. But for some reason she stuck around listening to me tell her what company she should keep. What classes she should take. How to talk to her parents when she thought she should keep her mouth shut. I got her through high school. I saw her go off to college. And now that she has graduated, I am seeing her through the first part of her "oh-my-God-I'm-an-adult" phase. I've been there through braces and break-ups. School dances and college applications. Parties and parents. I've watched her grow up into an adult all the while looking to ME for advice and guidance.

Looking to me? That's like a blind person teaching a person with 20/20 vision the color spectrum.

Every time the phone rings and I see her face there on the screen I hit the "answer" button and buckle up for what will only be a conversation that will test my navigational prowess. How do I use all of my relationship disasters, friendship roller coasters, emotional "come aparts" and complete lack of having my life together at the age of 30 to guide a 22 year old? How do I make sure that as a "Big Sister" I tell her what she needs to know in order to make the right decisions? She can always go to her parents or friends but for some reason she keeps coming back to me. And she comes back with two questions every time: "What should I do?" and "What would you do?" Those two questions have more conflict than relations in the Middle East.

I'm sure you're wondering why this isn't like parenting? Why I shouldn't feel like I could tell her "when I was your age we walked up hill both way to school and made our own shoes fashioned out of the burlap sacks we stored our potatoes in" (Irish family... Never fails). There's a difference between a parent and a sister. And I have learned that. It is easier to call a sister when you've found yourself at a party where everyone is drinking and you don't have a sober ride. It's easier to call her because while she knows she wasn't supposed to be at that party in the first place that sister will come out in the middle of the night, get you, bring you water and ibuprofen, and tell you she's been there too. It's not my place to discipline and set boundaries. It's my place to tell her: this is what I went through. This is what I experienced. And if you can piece together ANY helpful hints and tips for putting together a semi-normal and functional life for yourself: I commend you.

The other night this sweet girl asked me a question that didn't have to do with boys and break-ups or dresses and drama. She asked me: "But what will people think of me now?" And I teared up. Because that's exactly the question I have been asking myself for months. And I realized that the answer that I was about to give her as a Big Sister was the answer I needed to hear all along.

She had an opportunity to travel across the world for a job. She told everyone she knew. She was more than thrilled. It was a dream come true. She was finally going to be doing what she dreamed of doing her whole life and it was going to be on a level she never imagined. And after yelling it from the rooftops... it fell through. And she was scared, embarrassed and so concerned as to what other people were going to think of her because her plans changed. If you held a mirror in front of my face you would have seen a person who wondered what people thought of her: spending her whole life trying to get to Nashville, finally getting there, planting roots, trying to make something of herself, and eventually packing up and driving away from it all. I wondered too: Will people think I failed? Will people think that I wasn't able to set out and do what I said I was going to do? What are people thinking of me?

So I told her what I wished I had told myself every night I have sat in this apartment wondering what people were thinking about the girl who dreamed of living in Music City and then left. The only person who's opinion matters when it comes to your life is your own. Life happens. You can't determine the path that you are going to take or what is going to be on the next page in your life story. There are shake-ups and let-downs. But letting the perceptions of others have such an impact on the perception you have of yourself? That's unfair. Failure is when you didn't try. Failure is when you stood on the edge of change and didn't jump because of fear. Failure is not when life has other plans. Failure is when you make other plans to appease the opinions of others.

So I told her. And in telling her I told myself. A Big Sister and a Little Sister learned something together at the same time. And her response, upon hearing my great "words of wisdom" was: "Thank you. You always know the right thing to say! I needed that."

Little did she know... So did I. 

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