This was a statement that my nieces heard often through their lives. It was a running joke way back when. My brothers girls seemed to hear it when they were out of line or pushed the envelope a little. All joking aside, I always knew it wasn’t really a compliment. To them or to me. I come from a large family and I am the youngest. The age gaps are large. When I started grade one, my brother was in grade six, my sister was in grade eleven and the older boys had all graduated from high school. They never knew me… And yet they think they know me so well. I often wonder just where they got their opinions from. Was it the occasional weekend visits to my mom and dads house where they passed through my life ever so briefly? Did my parents discuss me behind my back? They say that birth order and parental favouritism causes sibling rivalry. Were they jealous? Did they think I was loved more? Most of them won’t have any memories of even living with me and my own are few. I was young. I morphed from a baby to a youngster and then a teen until finally a young mother and adult. I am sixty. A lot has happened since I was five. I believe that for them I am stuck in time. Way back when.
They say that children who are the youngest in a family feel invisible. I get that. I was closer in age to some nieces and nephews so when everyone got together I was expected to play with them. I didn’t fit with the adults really and I didn’t think like an adult so our interactions were perfunctory. Tim was closest to my age but also didn’t fit. He did work at it and in many ways he was accepted. He was the cool guy so that helped matters. I was a geeky bookworm loner. When I hit my teen years I was totally wrapped up in friends and sports and boys. By then I didn’t really think about family that much. In time I became a Mom, was married, got an education, had a career, raised my family, had grandkids and became a widow. That’s me in a nut shell. Yep sums it up I guess. Each comma in that sentence represents the substance that was my life up until this point. The highs and lows. The things people saw from the outside. If they saw them at all. Through the years I found that I saw their lives in their early adulthood. Their weddings and marriages. Their children. Highs and lows. After a certain age I was distant from my siblings lives geographically as well a figuratively. Random family gatherings or infrequent phone calls. Those provided the glimpses into my life. Once, my brother Bent told me he learned who I was from my blog. He apologized for never getting to know me. My grade twelve year was spent in a college where they offered core grade twelve classes as well as two years towards a University Degree. They were affiliated with a nearby University and so all classes were transferrable. It served as a small and safe stepping stone from home and rules to university and total freedom. We were allowed as many invitations to the Grad weekend as we wanted so I sent them to my parents, grandmother and all of my siblings. Imagine my surprise when they all came and my Mom expected me to spend time with them. It was also convocation for the second year College kids who would be moving on and commencing life at the U. of A. Which means… it was a party weekend. I had plans. I spent a bit of time with them but in reality I was confused as to why they all came. It wasn’t the first big thing I had done in my life and it wouldn’t be the last. Why the sudden interest. It wasn’t my first milestone. Perhaps they felt obligated. Maybe guilt? No idea. By that time in my life I had no interest in hanging with my siblings. There had already been eighteen years they could have done things with me. Been a part of my life. Frankly in my eyes they were old and I certainly had better things to do.
My earliest memories before age 6 always seemed to be in the summer. I remember sharing my red licorice with the dog. A bite for her and a bite for me. She never took bites. Just slobbered a bit. Playing with David West on their farm and being chased by Turkeys. Playing with Laura Lindstedt and her easy bake oven. Once Laura and I stayed overnight at her Aunts and we were allowed to gather the eggs. Her uncle showed us how to whistle using a blade of grass. I would visit my Dad at the grain elevator and he would let me eat wheat. Sometimes flax. I didn’t have a bicycle but the girl across the road did and she still had naps. Every day after lunch I rode her bike back and forth while she napped. I loved playing Lego with my buddy Keith. We are still friends. When Mom helped Dad out on the farm she would leave me on a blanket with my toys and some food. Out in the middle of the field by the old truck. Once Tim locked me in the bunkhouse next door and forgot until Mom asked where I was. I cried for a long time until I fell asleep. Maybe that’s why I am claustrophobic. I loved when Dad let me ride along when he drove the school bus. My favourite name in make believe was Linda. When there was a family dance I remember falling asleep on the chairs covered by my Mothers coat. My brother left me alone on a bench at the skating rink once. A man came and scooped me up and carried me around and around and around as we went faster and faster. It was magical. The first time I won the almond prize at Christmas it was a small bag of sugar covered jelly candies. All mine. I read my first full size book in grade one. The Bobbsey Twins. I was seven when I got my first bike. It was my sisters old one but for me it was like a magic carpet. I won first place in high jump in grade three. In bare feet because I was wearing cowboy boots that day. Someone stole my boots so I had to walk home barefoot but I was happy. Mom wasn’t. I was five the first time Dad took me golfing. When I was ten I started going alone with my friend. We borrowed clubs. As a teen I skinny dipped in the canal alongside the golf course floating blissfully down with my friends. Running back naked hoping my Dad wasn’t golfing that day. Dad taught me to shoot when I was 12. I had my first kiss in grade six. I was reading at a University level then according to tests. Watergate brought me a new interest in politics and the world. I cried when Ronald Reagan was elected. He scared me. Trump too. I always wanted to be a detective. Still do. Dad woke me in the middle of the night once to come and watch a pig give birth. We just sat in awe together as we watched in silence. My first aptitude test was in grade four. The lady told me I was quite bright. My first I.Q. test was in my early twenties. 152. I got a perfect score on the SAIT entrance exam. I have my level one gymnastics and basketball coaching certificate. I got 80% on my basketball referee test. I was an ice princess in the snow carnival when I was 16. I drag raced on the north road with my boyfriend when I was 16. I took fourth place in hurdles at South Centrals in grade seven. I smoke my first joint when I was 14. My last one three days ago. I took my Chemistry 20 final after dropping acid. I did quite well. I learned to disconnect the odometer when Mom and Dad went away for the weekend because Dad wrote down the mileage. When he started hiding the keys I learned to hot wire the truck. I rode motocross bikes with my boyfriend who really taught me to ride. I didn’t actually get my bike licence until I was 45. Turns out its the law. I lost my virginity when I was 15. I got lost in the red light district in Amsterdam late at night when I was 18. I taught Sunday school when I was fifteen. I was on Church Council when I was twenty and I spent seven years as the president of my Church. In boarding school I hid beer in the back of the toilet to keep it hidden and cold. My first concert was the Beach Boys when I was thirteen. My favourite band is Led Zeppelin. My favourite artist is Harry Nilssen. My favourite book is Riki Tiki Tavi. My favourite colour is yellow. My favourite movie is Romancing the Stone. My favourite number is two. My favourite author is Agatha Christie.
None of these things is who I am. They are memories and experiences that helped to form me as I grew. The reality is I was from the second family. When I started school there was only my brother in grade six and myself living at home. He knows me best but he doesn’t really know me either. I loved being a little girl. I had lots of fun as I grew older. In time I learned to bend and break rules that didn’t serve me. I fought with my parents as teens do. I rebelled. As I grew up and became an adult I still had fun. I still fought back. I still questioned rules and I worked hard for causes I believed in. There were good times and sad times. All helped me to grow and mature. Adulthood was always so hard as I struggled to fit in but never really did. At every bend in my life’s journey there were people who accepted and supported but just as many who judged and were ready to trip me up. Over time we build up our defences to avoid hurt and in time it can make us bitter. I realized long ago that I tried to change and adapt as an adult. I thought my in-laws would like me more if I conformed. Turns out they didn’t like themselves and they didn’t like me any more as I tried to change. Sadly, I didn’t like who I was becoming either. I wanted to go back to who I was before I cared about what others thought. After all, Rene’ loved me then. But he loved me always.
When my son died my husband and I shared that. We guided each other through to the next stage. As he said to me once “No one knows what we feel except us.” Grief is personal. When my husband was dying he tried to guide me knowing I would have to face his loss alone. We talked for hours and hours those six weeks. He was sad for what he was leaving and afraid of the unknown that he was facing and yet he worried about me. He always worried about what others thought, doing the right thing. Being responsible. Yet in his last days he turned to me and said “You know, nothing really matters in this world.” It took him 63 years to learn it. You see he finally understood that we need to live life fully without fear. Like a child. His last words of wisdom to me were to go and do all things he wouldn’t do with me. The last year and a half have been difficult. Without him. My sounding board. There are still people who trip me up, some who forgot about me but most importantly are those who accept. You see that’s all I really need now. Those that accept me. I realize now why being a child was so much easier. I walked away from things that didn’t serve me. Not angry. Not sad or mad. I just moved on. I didn’t need to confront a bully or play with someone when it wasn’t fun. I just left. No regret. No anything. Just moving on in life. My life was spontaneous as I moved through the stages. It served me well. People were experiences that I didn’t hold on to. Now at age sixty I will embrace my life. I will do those things he didn’t want to do. I will reconnect with the child I was who is still in me. I will try to live without judgement or regret. I have come a long way and my husband and I helped each other grow up and polish the sharp edges. I am content with who I have become and the journey I took up until this time. I have no regrets and I don’t wish to live with fear or silence. This next stage is one he will share from above.
Last Mothers Day my niece Tami sent me a beautiful text. She told me that when she hears the phrase “You’re just like your Auntie Cindy” she takes it as a compliment. You see my brothers saw me as a young uncontrollable child. They looked down as adults. My nieces however looked up to me. Teenagers finding their way. I wasn’t old like their fathers. I was more like an older sister. Someone who did much worse than they ever did but seemed to be doing okay. Someone who didn’t judge them. Someone who accepted them. Just as they were. They are all middle aged women now. Some with Grandchildren of their own. They all still stumble but get back up again. Through it all they may not share the same views or even live life as myself or each other but they are pretty strong people with a resilience that will carry them through life’s toughest valleys. We all have our flaws but we are all fiercely independent and strong. I guess what I learned from my nieces is that while others label us we can chose to see it as positive or negative. Or maybe not see it at all. Because it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter!