Today my sister, Louise, turns 40. Is it because she has reached this touchstone age to my almost-45 that I finally see her as a legitimate adult in her own right? Last night, while I was contemplating what to write, I realized that sometime in the recent past, I finally started to see Louise as not just a fully-formed adult, but one who has lapped me in so many “adulty” ways. For those of you who know her only as this amazingly kind, accomplished, adulty version of herself, please join my journey. A journey of a girl born in 1980, smack in the middle of a family of five kids.
I was almost 5 the when Louise was born. My only memory of the event was standing on the green, velour armchair at my grandparents’ house, talking on the black, rotary-dial phone that always sat on the buffet. “We’re naming her Louise,” Mom said. My only reference point to that name was George Jefferson screaming “Weezy!” on the show of the same name. It didn’t seem like a name for a baby. We called her Weez, Weezer Deezer, but never Weezy.
We grew up in the middle of nowhere in rural, southern Wisconsin. Our parents gave us a lot of opportunities and raised us to be open-minded and comfortable in the world. They also left us to our own devices a lot of the time. Fortunately for me, Louise always went along with whatever suggestions for fun (read, costume dramas and Esther-Williams themed water ballet in the 4 foot deep pool) I came up with. During our childhood, I definitely saw her as a character actor in the drama of my life.
As we got older and Louise stretched her proverbial wings, I took it upon myself to act as her shepherd into adult life, whether she needed it or not. Because, you know, she was my little sister first and foremost. Mom, I know you will not be pleased to hear this, but I provided Louise with what I believe was her first beer when she was visiting me at college. At the same time, I remained very protective of my pretty, smart younger sibling and recall one particularly awful dressing down about her high school aged behavior as we drove over the 27th street viaduct in Milwaukee. Sorry about that, Louise. But you so full of potential and promise, I didn’t want you to screw up IN ANY WAY. Turns out, I just needed to let you screw up in your own way. She was always inherently the smartest one in the family, but just didn’t need to flaunt it. It is now that I publicly admit that she scored one point higher than I did on the ACT. This admission alone would be an adequate birthday gift, but I shall go on.
A big turning point in the journey was when Louise up and left the midwest, moving to New York with her future husband, Ho Ying. I don’t think I realized at the time that this was, truly, a permanent move. I would have to create a version of our adult lives in which we weren’t an easy drive away from each other. I couldn’t resent the move though, even for a minute. I’m a Ho Ying fan. Pun fully and always intended.
One role that Louise defined all by herself was that of Cool Aunt. Other than foisting my children on her on every possible occasion, this had nothing whatsoever to do with me. I never have to nudge the girls in any way to spend time with “Aunt Tooise.”
In the past few years, I find myself calling Louise more and more often asking for advice. Somewhere she snuck up on me and stockpiled all sorts of adult skills. Folks, at the age of 40, I can say with confidence that Louise has fully lapped me. I am the older sister in name only.
Happy 40th birthday! In reality, you lapped me long ago.
PS…at least we didn’t do anything like this to you.