this one’s for my sister…

My little sister and I share a complex, love-hate relationship. We were raised in an abusive home, and years of being pitted against one another took their toll… we are on less shaky ground now; but she is a wary one, running at the merest hint of danger. Think a wobbly little deer. Heartbreaking, but the truth is that she also suffers from mental-health issues, which only compound our skewed version of relationship and love.

I remember sitting with her when we were 6 and 4, in front of the telly in the evenings, in footy pajamas. We were fresh from the bath and I would comb her long, wet hair while she sat in my crossed legs like a puppy. “Wild Kingdom” was playing, and though she loved all the animals, she would get scared when one was being hunted and bury her head in my shoulder, dampening my cheek. I went to bed smelling her strawberry shampoo and thinking that as long as I was there, she would be safe.

Somewhere along the way, we became enemies, small fights escalating to true physical violence between us. We have gone years without speaking, and although that is in the past, we all know how the past does not like to stay put. We called a truce when she called me one day, half-way thru her 21st year to say she was pregnant, and asked me to “come home”… I was in CA at the time. Even though I had not spoken to my parents in over a year, I sold my belongings, threw my clothes in a backpack and caught the first flight out.

She has 3 children now, and I have my foxing. We have spent decades rehashing our past, placing each other in new roles, and have had some good times. But always something happens, her thinking becomes less clear, and an imagined slight becomes the catalyst to another few months of not being in contact. To be fair, she works nights, and our routines never allow us to talk much anyway. When we work at it, we can manage to text  a few times a week and call every so often, but that is the majority of our relationship on a good day. Add the fact that she lives in NC and I am up here and you begin to see why we are not making the kind of progress I keep hoping for.

I realized last month that she and I now have one thing in common… perfectly the same. Since we do not share many similarities, it feels simultaneously great, but so sad when I put the pieces together.

My marriage may be over, but we have years of happy memories to remember. One thing our little family has always done is play board games. None of that “candy land” crap for us, we jumped right into the big stuff when she was small. You know the big, sweeping, european-style games, like “Struggle for Rome” and “Agricola”… anything by Rio Grande, Queens Games or Days of Wonder. Big games, hard games, games that require higher-level thinking and many hours to play. Because this is what my foxing grew up on, she has a wicked attention span and at age 10 could sit for hours playing along side her dad and I, giving us a run for our money.

In contrast, my sister who has budgetary restraints the likes of which I have never known, plays short games with her kids and has never taught them to use the rules. It is not the length of the game that got me, just the whole no-rules thinking. They completely wing it, and make it up as they go along. As you can imagine, when our kids were smaller and got together to play a game,  rioting ensued. My type-A girl would read the instruction book and every time they made a move, she would point out that they are not playing “properly” and that it would be more fun if they just did it the right way. Ouch, it took me several tries to get her to lay off them, and to just do whatever they do. When someone would change a rule at the last minute for the win, she decided that they should play outside and leave the games for when she was not there. =)

Their method of playing games has been dubbed by my youngest nephew as “Calvin rules”, from the comic Calvin and Hobbes. Drove me nuts for 8 years, and I finally stopped playing with them as well, and instead took them outside to swim.

Fast forward to last month, when my foxling and I wanted to play one of our many games. We realized that most of them are or 3 or more players. Saddened by the look on her face, I told her we can just ignore that one rule, and play the game ourselves. Smiling again, she chose the box she wanted and dragged it up to the dining room table to set up. Hmm… well, without that 3rd person, we had to change a few more rules. After an hour, we were playing completely of our own accord, and having a good time. At first, she was disappointed by how different it was, playing “alone”, but soon was caught up in the fun we were having. When we finally finished, and she won, she told me “Mumma, I finally get Calvin Rules…!”

When she went to bed that night, I cried my heart out. For my sister, instituting “Calvin Rules” was not a way of ignoring the rules, but of bending them to fit her situation. She is a single working mother with three kids in school. She has chosen to make a lot of concessions, to create something she can handle. All those years, I was irritated that she would not just try harder with them. The weight of my judgment of her was such a slap in my face, the shame I felt was overwhelming, and I resolved to look at her in a new light. To look at my own situation in a new light.

Hell, right now my entire goddamned LIFE is “Calvin Rules”… I am doing what I can, when I can. I may be still able to have structure, but fundamentally, we have to shift how we see ourselves and what we do. We can never fit into that “us 3” box again, we are now a smaller version of who we used to be. Sure, we can grow and find new pursuits, but there is a huge part of our life that is just different. I have no one to cook when I have had a long day. She has no one to play a video game with while I take a hot bath. If I am sick, I bundle into the car and get medicine my own damned self. Games will be played with modified rules, because, really, WE ARE MAKING OUR OWN RULES.

I have become more gentle this past month in new ways. I still take my foxling to task over the normal behavioral issues, but have allowed myself to think more broadly with her, with everyone. I am less harsh when it comes to most everything, and have learned that expecting perfection from myself is totally unreal, let alone from those around me. I am letting my “standards” slip a little, and it was terrifying at first… but now it is easier to just smile and say “sure” and try to make the activity fit us, instead of the other way around.

Here’s to everyone trying to create a life of happiness in a world full of rules that do not quite apply to their situation… It takes bravery to be different, and sometimes you just have to play the game like Calvin.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. NotAPunkRocker
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 10:30:46

    Calvin Rules are perfect for today, and most every other day too. 😀


  2. tishmoon
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 18:19:10

    Thanks, Punky, I just KNEW you’d agree ! =) =)


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