Here we are!
Gosh there is so much I want to say about this photo. The beaut standing next to me is technically my second cousin. My cousin’s daughter, Ellen. There are technically four of us in the picture. The little peanut in the middle is Lillian, technically my third cousin. Just behind my flowers is a pin. It’s two silver wings. It’s for Elli’s first daughter, Chevelle, who was born an angel.
If you were to remove Elli from my history there wouldn’t be much left. I was the trusted babysitter for her and her brother when they were little. Using the term babysitter is a stretch really. Their house was where I went when I hated my mother (sorry ma, love ya!). It was kind of my neutral zone. Elli’s mother Julie, my first cousin who is 20 years older than me knew more about my life in middle and high school than almost anyone else. I could literally tell her anything and sometimes she would get on my case if I needed it.
Elli and I grew up less like second cousins and more like sisters. We told each other secrets, always picked each other for Christmas gift giving (still do), fought like feral cats, and made up like sisters do too.
I loved watching her play hockey and remember being so proud of her for getting out on the ice and kicking ass.
Life happened as it always does. College happened. We saw less of each other.
When we moved back to Minnesota, life started to slow down a bit and I wanted to reconnect. We did and soon after she told me she was pregnant with Chevelle. To say I was shocked was kind of an understatement.
I had this vision of her going off to college like I did. I had all of these expectations for her life. It took me some time to realize I was doing the exact same thing I HATED people doing to me – which was having their expectations of what my life SHOULD look like. I felt like an asshole and apologized.
I will never forget when I got the phone call Elli was in the hospital having Chevelle at just over 18 weeks gestation. The prognosis wasn’t known for sure, but wasn’t positive. All I knew is I wanted to see her. Matt and I drove to the hospital and I sat next to her in bed and tried to hold back my tears. I would have given just about anything to take her place. See, when I look at her, I still see this blonde hair, blue-eyed angel running around with gaps in her teeth giggling. There I sat, holding the hand of a woman, a mother who was losing her first child and life seemed so sick and unfair. Before we left the hospital I put my hand her swollen belly and felt the smallest flicker of life. I don’t know if the flutter was Chevelle or if I just needed to feel something in that moment.
The next day Chevelle was born still and never had a reason to cry. The entire span of her life she was kept safe and warm. She didn’t have to experience sadness or loneliness. She was baptized and Matt and I were asked to be her Godparents and were of course, humbled and honored.
When I found out Elli was pregnant again I again, was stunned – for different reasons. I was getting married. She was in the wedding. How would this work? Why was she rushing back into a pregnancy? Would she suffer again? I emotionally shut myself off to her during most of her pregnancy.
Looking back now I understand things happened the way they did and I can’t change them no matter how many times I would do them over. I remember realizing when she passed the 24 week point and I was able to take a small breathe, knowing her second little girl would be viable at that point. Every time the phone rang I was a little afraid of what it would be.
It was time for her baby shower. I didn’t feel ready to see her yet. I was still wrapped up in myself and my emotions surrounding HER experience. The moment I saw her I almost fell in the floor. She was glowing. Her big beautiful swollen belly… I wanted to run over and rub it (I think I did eventually)… I wanted to cry and hug her and tell her I was being stupid. I wanted to tell her I shut off because I was afraid. I wanted to tell her thinking about my wedding day without her felt sad and wrong and I wasn’t sure if I could do it without her.
If there is one thing you should know about Elli and I is we are basically twins… both stubborn as bulls and full of pride so of course it took some time to tell her all of this.
The day after Lily was born Matt and I drove up to the hospital. It was such a juxtaposition to the first time we drove to the hospital to see her. There was going to be a baby for me to hold.
I walked in the room and there were my girls. Elli, Lily, and Chevelle in her little urn next to Elli’s hospital bed. I sat with Lily and held her and made a promise to love her and do whatever I could do to help raise her. I would be her auntie. She would be my niece. Screw third cousin crap. I am her auntie. A cool aunt though – the one who will let her jump on my bed, let her eat candy, watch rated R movies, be the safe place, and maybe when she hates her mother (sorry Elli, we all did it), I can be her safe haven. Her port in the storm if you will.
I tell you this story because it’s an important one about family. Family is a fascinating institution. Elli and I have had our bumps in the road. Fuck bumps, we have fallen off the proverbial abyss, the precipice, and yet we always find each other. We’re willing to trudge through the murky waters to fight for and find each other. Having Lily in my life has changed it. I will always be grateful for her for that. Someday when she is old enough to understand it, maybe I will tell her this story so she knows how much she means to me.
We’re sisters and that’s something worth fighting for.
It’s also a lesson in expectations. It taught me to practice what I preach here. Elli’s life is hers to live how she wants to. I can’t do a darn thing about it other than love the shit out of her and support her in every single decision she makes – whether or not it is something I would choose for her, or myself. She is a smart woman and knows what is best for her and I trust that now.
So when I mention my girls, this is who I am referring to. My three girls who are such an awesome and fulfilling part of my life.
I promise to be open. I promise to be better.
Love you to the moon and back, twice.