Jen is 7 years younger than me and definitely falls into the category of "baby sister". When she was born, we lived in a small house in Somerset, New Jersey (see picture to the right). I clearly recall visiting her in the hospital a day or two after she arrived. She was in the nursery along with rows of other babies and Dad pointed her out to me. When I got home that night, I threw up. I’m told the two events are not related.
I remember the day Jen came home pretty clearly. There was a crib or playpen of some kind set up in the family room and I recall watching her lay there, squirming around, making all kinds of faces. Naturally I thought that she was making faces at me, something that I took personally for a while. I made faces right back at her. Funny thing is, to this day, she still makes those faces. (See picture below).
When Jen was about six months old, we moved from the little house in Somerset to a bigger house in Warwick, Rhode Island. It was at that house, when Jen was two or three years old, that we had our first significant bonding moment. Mom and Dad had gone out somewhere and I was left in charge to babysit. Like any big brother, I thought it wise to teach my sister the kind of things that she would find useful in making her way in the world.
I decided, in this case, to teach her to do spinning jumps off the railroad ties by the driveway. The railroad ties were about 3 or 4 feet above the surface of the driveway. A spinning jump, for those of you unfamiliar with this vital skill, is where you jump into the air while performing a 360 turn. I demonstrated the jump for Jen several times, and then asked her to perform it, to ensure that she’d understood the instructions.
Poised at the edge of the precipice, I recall watching Jen as if in slow motion, bend her knees and then gracefully leap forth into the air, applying just the right amount of torque to spin her counterclockwise. I watched as her legs seemed to continue to rise into the air, while the rest of her body began to descent. I watched as she cracked her chin into the railroad tie on the way down–which, incidentally, was not part the instruction I gave her; but this is why we perform tests. When she pulled herself up from the pavement she was actually very composed, a kind of weird smile on her face.
It was I who lost my composure. Her face was bloodied–so much so that I couldn’t even tell where the blood was coming from. I panicked, and of course, Jen panicked, too. (I never failed to miss the irony that she could imitate my panic, but not my smooth, spinning jump.) I rushed her across the street to our neighbors, Debbie and Dave. Debbie, I knew, was a nurse, and a nurse could fix things right up. Mostly, I just wanted her to stop crying. Naturally, I felt terrible about the whole thing.
For some reason, I was never able to keep my composure around my baby sister, although she was very composed around me. Years later, after we moved to L.A., we flew together, just the two of us, back to New York. We had a stop in Chicago, but we given strict instructions not to get off the plane. When the plane arrived in Chicago, there was some mechanical problem and all passengers were told to get off the plane. I must have been thirteen years old by then, and standing in O’Hare airport, uncertain of what to do, I panicked. It was by six year old sister who put her hand on my back and said, "It’ll be okay." And of course, it was.
My favorite picture of Jen has always been one of the two of us that I took back in April 2003 while we rode a trolley together in San Francisco. By then we were both grown up, but she was still my baby sister. Now, my baby sister is also a mother! It’s a strange phenomenon, but one that I imagine most people experience, particularly in siblings with whom they have a 7 year advantage. As I said, I can remember when Jen was still in the nursery at the hospital. I can remember when she came home, squirming and crying, and making faces. I can still see her in mid-air, suspended above the pavement in Rhode Island. Years pass. There are graduations, weddings, moves across the country, trips up to New York to visit her in Astoria and Manhattan. All the while she was my little sister, and now my little sister is a mommy.
So while I still love the picture of the two of us on the trolley in San Francisco, I think I have a new "favorite" picture of Jen. It’s one that was taken yesterday by Mom or Dad in Jen’s hospital room in New York.
When you see the picture below, I think you’ll understand why.
So congratulations, lil’ sis. Congratulations, Jason! Kelly and I can’t wait to come meet Sadie. And while we are not yet parents, we offer some humble parenting advice:
Keep your eyes open when Sadie is near railroad ties. If she’s inherited any of Jen’s sense of coordination, it could spell trouble.