Sunday, February 22, 2015

My sister's keeper

I was recently and not for the first time re-evaluating my decision to move back to Mass.from Chicago. The reasons for my return were mostly family-based, in particular because of my sister, with whom I wasn't involved enough.

My sister is hard to describe. She's three years younger than I. As a child she was extremely emotionally volatile, with the kind of rigid requirements and temper tantrums you'd associate with autism. She has cognitive deficits. She has some motor issues. She can also remember numbers and names and circumstances like a human encyclopedia. She doesn't like to read, although she can. She's terrific about keeping secrets. She loves babies and animals.

As an adult, there are no more temper tantrums, and her behavior is much more appropriate; going out in public or taking trips is no longer a Russian Roulette of public scenes. She has a job at a major grocery store, bagging groceries. She can have a flat affect when she talks, and she scowls when she asks questions. She can give the impression of being less bright than she is.

She went through hell in school.

She is not is stupid or unobservant.

She smiles with more of her entire face than anyone I know.

She picks out the most appropriate, most hilarious greeting cards.

In the last year or so she's reconnected with a friend who used to work with her. The friend lives in a group home walking distance from where my sister lives with my parents, and is very independent. She has transformed my sister's life. They go to theme parties at the Knights of Columbus, church bazaars, fairs. They get pedicures. (Pedicures!)  My sister, once monosyllabic, has become a chatterbox, asks me what's going on, makes small talks with cashiers. I am delighted.

My parents are frustrating. They don't advocate for my sister or encourage independence. We are currently in an argument about getting her a cell phone, Now, it might seem obvious that my sister should have a cell phone, but my mother is typically frustratingly contrary about it.

Did I mention there's a program where my sister can get a phone and service FOR FREE?

So my assumption is that it's a matter of control, because my mother has to be in everyone's business. We have a cordial relationship, but I can tell she senses that I'm not bully-able. My sister knows it, too. In fact, everyone knows it, and they stand spineless on the sidelines silently supporting me while I now push for my sister to have more access. There's a transit program in addition to the phone. I'm working on both for her, and my parents can go jump. My sister and I went clothes shopping for the upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, and when my mother started her querulous questioning as to why my sister bought Keds instead of the usual big white athletic sneakers, I took the phone from my sister and said, "Because she doesn't want to look like an old person or a member of a group home."

My  parents love my sister, don't get me wrong, and they have cared for her her entire life. But they have stunted her, too.

Once upon a time, I'd have been caught up in the drama. Being away from my family and the negativity and criticism for decades has done wonders. Once upon a time, the notion of defying my mother and just going around her when she wasn't willing to cooperate would have been unthinkable.

I say all of this because I was wondering why I'd felt such a sense of rightness about coming back when things in Chicago, while not perfect, were certainly better than they are right now. I knew I was supposed to come back, that it was the right thing to do, but was looking for direction. And I was suddenly reminded of a prayer I used to make while I was in college. I made this prayer all the time; in Bible study, in the prayer room (yes we had one of those. Think Christian meditation -- it was, after all, a Christian college).

My prayer was, "please take care of my sister."

While I was contemplating my return, this memory came back suddenly and sharply, and with it, a message:

"I am answering your prayer."

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