September 16, 2009

My little sister is crazy, and I think it's my fault. When she was a baby, I'm pretty sure I let her fall on her head a few times. Accidentally. It was a whole changing table thing, and I moved away to toss the diaper, and, well, she was on the floor, sort of screaming. And kicking. In that silent way babies do before they actually gather enough air to really let it rip. Yeah, live and learn, right?

My older sister and I also did a few other things that might not be considered, well, nice. We put hot things in Nessa's mouth just to watch her shake her chubby cheeks in her very specialized, silent reaction. We constantly draped her in a fringe shawl, that, for some odd reason, made her scream and freak out. (To this day, she blames me for her aversion to bathing suit material even though the fringe shawl was not made out of bathing suit material.)

She was a cute baby. She was a cute toddler. She had a rocking problem. She used to sit -- on a couch, in the car, on her bed -- and rock herself. From waist to head, she rocked her body into the back of the couch, the back of the car seat, the wall...and she sang. Well, she didn't really sing as much as she made melodic noises. To the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," she "sang," "Yah, yah, yah, yah, YAH YAH YAAAAAH!" You could tell when she was really tired because the rocks became more violent and slamming, and the singing got louder and louder. My mom used to worry that all the rocking would scramble her brains.

My friends dubbed Vanessa the "Devil Child," because she would become so completely evil when I babysat her. I'd attempt to put her to bed, and she'd react by throwing toothpaste at my head or kicking me in the face with her little, white, faux turquoise-studded Payless boots. Now that I think about it, maybe all the above contributed to her hating me as a babysitter?

I realize that I'm probably painting her as a complete freak, but Vanessa is really quite normal. I mean, there are times when she says things to me like, "But she was humming and hawing over it, so I just let it drop," and "And you know, once he did that, it was, like, just rubbing salt in the womb, you know?" which make me wonder if we really should have put a helmet on her when the whole rocking thing started, but, as of today, she's made it to 28 years relatively intact.

Anyway, the most amazing thing about Vanessa is while she is eight years younger than I, we've been incredibly close her whole life. When we went on family vacations, I actually had someone to play with. The eight years simply disappeared, and we had fun together.

There's a particular scene in Disney's Robin Hood that we'd act out using our giant Tinker Toys. It was all about sword fighting and screaming, "Get the tyrant!" (Nessa never really knew the actual line and would just scream, "Gettatiant!" which was pretty good for a five year-old.) We could replay that scene for hours and never get sick of how funny we thought it was.

Other times I'd be playing my 80s music -- usually taped off KDWB or WLOL -- and she'd come into my room and proceed to dance around with a nightgown fastened to her head with a headband. (She really wanted long hair.) When we were on spring break with my parents in Florida, she got ahold of a black crayon and drew a mini moustache and soul patch on herself. The she cocked a hat on her heat and put on my sunglasses and struck a pose, holding the Crayon like a cigar. I think she was ten.

As a toddler, Vanessa had a plush toy that looked like a bear rug. I'm not sure if it was supposed to be a blanket or something a baby could lie on, but it was basically a very large, very stretched, very deflated stuffed bear. I would drape this thing over my back and head and crawl after her. She would shriek with scared laughter and run away from me. Then she'd stop, wait for me to catch up, and shriek-run again.

During those times, we were no longer big sister and little sister, we were playmates.

When I moved to Boston and then to San Francisco, Nessa managed to visit at least once a year. During a recent visit, she dragooned Mathra and I into playing Clue over and over and over again. We, in turn, forced her to watch Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on repeat until she got hysterical at the same scenes that cracked us up.

Ever since the Bug was born, Nessa nags me repeatedly for photos and has been champing at the bit to come out for a visit. She calls to update me on the status of a mysterious baby package she's putting together. She's completely in love with her nephew and brags about him possibly more than I do. A few times she's called and informed me, "I'm not calling to talk to you, I want to talk to the baby."

These days, we sit on the phone and gab about shampoos and conditioners, makeup, celebrity gossip, Harry Potter, our parents, our friends, and our cats. She gives me hair and fashion advice (the clothes I wear are never tight enough for her taste), and I give her Big Sister advice. (Like: Don't buy new leggings on the way to a nanny gig just because you didn't shave your legs today. The kids won't care.) Sometimes we even follow each other's advice.

We usually talk once a day, sometimes more if she's bored at work, in the car, shopping at Target, doing laundry, cleaning her house, or has a "quick question." (It's possible for her to have a "quick question" up to five times a day.) Sometimes she even calls me before I'm awake, usually because she's forgotten that California is in a different time zone from Minnesota. (Like I said: helmet.)

We aren't just sisters, we're friends, but no matter how many years pass, no matter how many tattoos she gets, no matter how high fashion she dresses, I still see her as the crazy kid, who danced around my room with a nightgown on her head.

Happy birthday, little sister.

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