The annoyance of the little sister

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 21, 2014 9:36 PM

I have no recollection of my sister being born. I was nine days from being seven years old. It was four days before Christmas. I had other things on my mind. I wanted an Easy Bake Oven, not a little sister. I didn’t even like babies. Maybe that’s why I have no memory of her coming into my life but come she did.

I don’t know of too many older sisters who enjoyed having a new baby in the house, someone who you couldn’t play with and who cried a lot. I doubt my sister cried a lot though. She was always a good soul.

Because I was the oldest, with a younger brother as well, it fell to me to set the goal posts. I did everything first, breaking in the parents. I went to school, I got in trouble, I learned to drive, I got in more trouble, I went to college. Because my sister was – and is – just about seven years younger than I, we didn’t have much of a relationship other than “get out of my room.”

I babysat the two of them, the brother and sister. I brooded over perceived injustices. “Why do I have to watch them? Why can you get a babysitter?”

Through the years, I watched as the little sis bombed around the house, falling and hitting the bridge of her nose on the fireplace at least twice, giving herself two black eyes. I listened to her jabber on about nothing in particular and her bu-beans doll (don’t ask). I got mad when she took my talking Barbie into the bathtub, forever ruining the voice box so that the only thing that Barbie said was grlegiltuwilchgh bll.

She named our dog when she was three. I have no idea why she was given the honor. Perhaps because she was the only one who came up with something. I think she meant to call him Charlie but as she was just three, it came out Chaudee. The name stuck. That dog lived to be 19.

We weren’t close, my sister and I, not while I lived at home. She was simply my sister, just as Scott was just my brother. I was a selfish, horrible teenager, terrible to everyone in the family.

When I went away to college, I started to develop more of an appreciation for my siblings. My little sister even came to stay with me at school for at least one weekend. I hope she wasn’t too scarred by the experience.

When I got married the first time, I asked her to be my maid of honor. She was 19 and in college herself at that point. I remember flying back to New England for two weeks over the Christmas holiday and she and I going shopping for her dress. I didn’t want anything too traditional. I wanted it to be something that she actually could wear elsewhere if she so chose. We found a lace dress in a gray-taupe, that hung just to the knee. It looked fabulous on her. I think she looked better on my wedding day than I did, and I was just fine with that.

She came to visit me in California several times, especially after I got divorced. We went to Disneyland. We went to see The Phantom of the Opera. She eventually got engaged to a wonderful man named John. I was her matron of honor. By then I was involved with Kevin. When Kevin and I married several years later, she came with my parents. They all stood up with me.

Somewhere, sometime over the years, she and I became friends, then best friends. We share a family, we share a similar sense of humor, we agree on most things. We’re as close as we can be given that we live on opposite sides of the country. She’s the best person I know.

Today is her birthday and I’ve been thinking about her all day. We exchanged texts, the easiest way to communicate these days. As I thought of her today, I realized I didn’t care when she was born, or that I found her annoying when I was a kid. Because now I want to be like her when I grow up. She’s very special, to me and to all, and the definition of living it out loud.

Tomorrow I travel

by Admin Wednesday, November 5, 2014 7:49 PM

Tonight I pack. Tomorrow I journey to visit the family. I haven’t been back to New England in years and it’s time even though I don’t really have time to be away. There’s never a good time to go anywhere though. I’ve started to think that the only way to make it a good time is to do it spontaneously which doesn’t work because a) I can’t get a good price on a flight and 2) there probably aren’t any flights available short notice anyway.

Whenever I plan to go anywhere, I dread it. For weeks. It doesn’t matter if it’s Hawaii, Cabo San Lucas or Pittsburgh. The dreading occurs because of the hassle factor. It’s nearly impossible to take extended periods of time off because I don’t have anyone else to do my work. It’s how I like it but it does make vacations more difficult. Years ago, after I was done complaining to my dad about how busy I was, he paused and asked: “Honey, can’t you hire someone?” Oh, how I wish. The problem is that people hired me to do their writing. If they had wanted someone else, they would have hired someone else. It would be like choosing a particular surgeon to do your operation only to have that surgeon pass it off to another.

I’ve been dreading this trip too. Not because I don’t want to go or because I don’t want to see my family. I actually want both. But I’ve just been slammed lately and it makes me very stressed to be planning to go away. Once I’m there, everything will be fine. And sheesh, it’s only for two days. Still, I stress. I don’t sleep. I’ll get off the plane tomorrow and I’ll look like death warmed over and my family will look at me and think “whoa, she looks terrible. And old. And bad.” I like to look good when I see people I haven’t seen for a long time, even family who will love me regardless. I like to look successful and put together. But last night I didn’t sleep, and tomorrow I have to get up early. I will be a mess when I deplane in Manchester.

My workload has actually gotten a bit better the last few days. This is good. It’s like the universe saying that it’s really OK to take two whole days off. But I still have too much to do. And I’m building a house. Actually, finishing a house. We were informed by Mike Mike Mike (in honor of it being hump day) on Friday that the building phase has officially ended. We passed inspection. We’re now full-speed to completion and that means decisions. Tile, and stone, and hearths for the fireplaces; and choosing the slabs of granite, and the countertop tile for the bathrooms and the vanity lights; and deciding on stucco color and interior paint color; and picking door handles and light switch covers; and and and.

Every day it’s something. Today was a discussion about exterior stone and where we’re going to get it since what we thought we were going to go with we’ve decided we don’t like well enough. Then the CAD drawing of the front door came in and we have to make adjustments to that. And we talked to the fabricator at the kitchen place who will be cutting our slabs since we inspected them yesterday and like the color very much but there’s a fissure at the top of one and we were concerned that it might open up.

And and and

It’s hard to go away when there is so much going on. But it’s hard not to see my family for long periods of time, and while I would love for them to come visit me, it makes more sense for me to go back there. That way I get to see everyone at once. Hopefully they’ll all plan individual trips out here after the first of year, when the weather is miserable in New England and glorious out west.

Tonight I pack. I will think about what I need and what I want to wear. I will lay it all out on the bed and then I will cut it in half so that it fits into a carry-on. I’ll gather the work I’m taking with me. I’ll make sure I have all my power cords and a book. Tomorrow I travel. I will see my mother and my sister and my brother, my niece and nephew and brother-in-law. I’ll see mom’s cat Chow Maine, and my sister’s dog Lucky. I’ll meet the new dog-addition, Lindy. I’ll relax and talk and show pictures. The dread will turn to enjoyment. It will be a time to celebrate being together, a time to live it out loud.

A lucky woman

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 24, 2012 8:29 PM

My house is quiet again today. It was lively this morning, with alarms beginning sometime around 2 am only to be placed into snooze mode as it was much too early. The real alarms, the ones that requested everyone to rise, get ready and get out, started at the appointed time of 5. There was a short series of buzzes that emanated from the guest room upstairs. It was soon quieted, no doubt by my sister’s hand. Next came a cell phone, followed quickly by an iPod, both alarms having a softer though no less powerful message. Soon I could hear the floor boards in the bathroom creaking. Yes, they definitely need to be fixed. Some day. Some day.

I lay in bed and listened to the girls getting ready. We had to leave for the airport and they were busy making pretty for the trip, packing their last minute items. The coffee pot clicked on, and soon, I heard the telltale gurgle of it finishing, and the aroma of freshly brewed French roast wafted our way. My alarm was supposed to go off at 5:30 but I was obviously awake. At 5:28, I rolled out of bed, slipped into sweat pants and a hoodie, pulled on a pair of socks, laced up my running shoes, ran a brush through my tangled mess of hair, brushed my teeth and went out to the kitchen. Poured some coffee as I squinted at the light over the sink. Kevin was still in bed. I poured him a cup. I knew he was going to want to get up to say goodbye, to see us off.

Soon the girls came down, lugging their carry-on bags. Khris had some coffee; Shawn took the last piece of the coffee cake I made on Sunday morning, wrapped it up in some napkins. They hugged Kevin and started to say their goodbyes while I took the bags out to the Rover. It was still dark though the sky was turning from midnight to dusty gray. I could see clouds high; the brightest stars still shown but were beginning to fade. The girls came out, climbed into the car. I kissed my husband and told him to go back to bed, hoped I’d be home by 7:30. Maybe I’d even go back to bed, too. It was 5:45.

We drove through the ever-lightening dark, along the 101, into the Valley toward the rising sun. The traffic was heavy but moving as I suspected it would be. It doesn’t start to really pack up until closer to 6:30. We would be nearly to the airport by then. We talked about the flight, about their trip. Khris and I sipped our coffee; Shawn munched her cake. We were tired. By 6:45 we were in front of Virgin America at Terminal 3. It was fairly quiet. I pulled to a stop in the appropriate white zone (for the immediate loading and unloading of passengers only), and we all spilled out onto the asphalt. The sun was shining, climbing into the sky; soon they would be as well. The bags were removed from the back and then it was time to say goodbye.

LAX in the morning

I am not a crier, but I’ve spent more time in tears in the last month and a half than probably any time in my entire life. As I hugged by beautiful niece and then my beautiful sister, I felt the tears sting my eyes, felt the lump in my throat, felt the heat in my face. It was so wonderful to have them here but it was just a visit and visits always come to an end. It’s times like this though, when saying goodbye, that I realize how far away I am from many of the ones I love. Sometimes, that’s hard. This morning was such a time.

It is my choice to live out here. It was my choice to move here 26 years ago and I don’t regret it. California has been very good to me. I have an incredible husband and truly remarkable friends, friends who are family. I love the west; I have always believed I was born to live out here. I fit in here. I’m comfortable.

But as Khris and Shawn took their bags and started through the glass doors, as I watched those doors slide open to swallow up my only sister and my only niece, I felt sad. And just for that moment, lonely. I miss them all the time, though I get used to not seeing them. But it was fabulous to have them here, to celebrate some of our great California weather (and some not-so-great California weather), to cook and drink wine (Shawn’s was sparkling cider) and visit and relax. It was a lovely long weekend.

As I type this tonight, they’re home, no doubt already in bed. Khris has her favorite pillow, Shawn is nestled into her sheets and comforter with Lucky, their dog, nearby. May they sleep long and restfully, and wake up tomorrow to enjoy their New Hampshire Wednesday, their routine, their lives. We all lead separate lives that intersect when we allow them, lives that are happy and successful and real and full of love. Maybe it’s how we were raised; maybe we’re just lucky. It’s no wonder that’s the name Shawn chose for their puppy four years ago. She knew.

I know, too. I’m a lucky woman. Living it out loud, here in California. 

A celebration on this winter solstice

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 21, 2011 8:06 PM

The winter solstice arrives tonight at 11:30 Central Standard Time. For anyone east of that, the solstice is actually tomorrow; for anyone west, it’s just a little earlier. It’s the shortest day and the longest night of the year. From here through the next solstice, the days will get progressively longer until the 21st of June when we’ll experience the longest day of the year and the shortest night. Interestingly, my brother was born on the summer solstice; my sister on the winter. Perhaps it’s what makes them both special and why I celebrate them.

Today my sister Khris is celebrating far away from me, as always, but she’s close to my heart and never far from my thoughts. We spoke briefly and will hopefully do so more either later or tomorrow. She was eating cake when we did connect after several missed calls. My mother had made it, which is lovely. I could hear my brother’s deep, very deep voice in the background. He has an amazing voice, my brother, and he sounds more and more like my father. I love to talk to him; I don’t talk to him nearly enough and in fact, haven’t, in months. We’re currently engaged in one of the most ferocious and long-lasting games of phone tag in our storied history. I hope it will come to end by Christmas.

I digress.

When Khris was born, I was nearly seven, Scott was two and a half. I think my math is right. It was a cold, blustery day in Erie, Pennsylvania. On that day, Apollo 8, carrying Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders, blasted into space. It was NASA’s second successful manned mission and the first manned orbit of the moon. It took them three days to get to the moon. I think it took that long for my mother to return home from the hospital. My memory’s a bit sketchy as I was only nearly 7 at the time but I think my mother said that she was adamant about being home for the holiday. For Christmas. In those days, women stayed in the hospital longer after having a baby.

It was a Saturday, that December 21st, and the Cleveland Browns beat the Dallas Cowboys in Cleveland, 31 to 20. It was 33º. Wind chill was 24. In Erie, the temperature was about 31º; the lake’s temperature was 36. I don’t believe anyone was swimming.

Historically, December 21 was the day the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. The year was 1620. In 1937, the original and first, full-length animated film opened. It was produced by Walt Disney and entitled Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It is also the day, in 1988, when a Pan Am jet exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Khris was 20 then. I wonder if she remembers. She would have been in college, getting her undergrad degree at Plymouth State in New Hampshire. She would go on to get her masters and become a practicing psychologist, a career that’s temporarily on hold because of the kids.

Tonight she’s celebrating her birthday with John, Shawn, Caden, Lucky and Perry. Mom and Scott are there, maybe Scott’s girlfriend. I’m there in spirit, as I always am. It’s been sometime since I’ve been around for holidays and celebrations. I occasionally get back for a summer fest, like Shawn’s birthday or my mother’s this past July, but the holidays are hard. And Khris, like me, has a birthday close to Christmas. Birthdays on days where the days are short and the nights are long. She and I are different in many ways. She’s blonde while I’m brunette. I’m tall, she’s shorter. She lives East, I west. But we’re the same in many ways, too. I try to be as kind as she is.

On this winter solstice, when the Earth is positioned so the sun stays closer to the equator, at the imaginary line called the Tropic of Capricorn, I’m celebrating with her. The sun was high at noon. Tonight as the central clock turns to midnight, and the date rolls to the 22nd, the horoscope will change as well, from Sagittarius (which Khris is) to Capricorn (which I am), and we’ll begin our earthly progression toward longer days.

On this shortest day, I celebrate the day my sister blasted into our lives. She’s funny, gentle, smart, good, and lovely. I miss her; I love her. I wish her a happy winter solstice.

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relative celebrations

My trip, part three: For the birds edition

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 3, 2011 8:20 PM

It's my niece's birthday and we spent the day celebrating her twelve years on this earth.  I remember when she was born. It was Friday night and Kevin and I were having dinner at Ritrovo, a lovely Italian restaurant that is now Rustico, another even lovelier Italian restaurant. Khristan had been in labor all day, and obviously there was nothing I could do being all the way out in the California which is why we went to dinner. But I had my phone, a very old Nokia, next to me on the table. My dad had promised to call as soon as the baby was born.

Khris had a very tough pregnancy and had an equally tough delivery. I don't know how long she was in labor but by the time my phone rang, just as we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, it had been at least a day or more. I'm sure it felt like months to my sister. Dad: "She's OK. We have a beautiful baby girl. 8 pounds 9 ounces. Your sister is fine." Thank god, and thank god for my Shawn Elise.

I haven't been here for most of her birthdays but I was here for this one. But because I'm not here for most of her birthdays, nor for anything else for that matter, I don't know what she likes. I know she's into dance, that she's dancing in tomorrow's 4th of July parade in Amherst. I know she runs track and holds the current record at the middle school for long jump (12' 9"). I know her best friend is Faith, and that she's an honors student, often a high honors student. She loves her family, idolizes her mother, wants to know what Auntie Lorin is writing these days, and loves animals. But I didn't know what to get her for her birthday.

Today we bought a bird. She decided she wanted a parakeet, and my sister also decided that she could have a parakeet. Getting the Mother's ok in a decision like this is key. Or keet, as this case may be. We went to Petco, where the pets go, and spent quite a bit of time with a girl named Julie. She was quite versed on birds, especially the baby parakeet variety which is what we were looking at.

Parakeets can live for 20+ years. You can tell if they're a boy or a girl by looking at their beak. If there's a blue band across the top, it's a boy; a pink band, she's a girl. Their toys need to be changed out frequently lest they get bored. Food should be changed daily even if there's left over bird-kibble in their bowl. Clean the cage once a week, using only warm water, no solvents. If they get a sniffle, they need antibiotics. Don't touch them for two days after purchase; prepare to be pecked after that as they get used to you. Keep their wings clipped so they can't fly away. Understand that they will get up with the sun and chirp.

We also bought a copy of Parakeets for Dummies.

Parakeets are delicate creatures. Blue with white tails, yellow from beak to butt, green with a dark blue tail. Shawn's parakeet is the latter. We think he's a boy – he has a light blue/purple band across his nose – but won't be entirely sure until his beak changes color. His name is Perry, and tonight he has a new home, complete with a (near) 6 year old brother named Caden and a 4 year old border collie-Australian shepherd mix named Lucky who was intrigued by the fluttering sounds coming from the Petco box.

I wish Perry dog-speed. Welcome to the family!

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live out loud

Khristan the tulip

by Lorin Michel Friday, June 10, 2011 6:51 PM

For no reason and every reason in the world, I’m celebrating my little sister today. I was seven when she was born. To me, she was nothing but an irritation, a crying little mass of goo that took up too much of my mother’s time, time that should have been spent with me. My brother had done much the same two years earlier. I had no use for either of them.

As I grew older, moving steadily through junior high and high school, she remained nothing more than my sister. I have few memories of our interactions when we were kids, only fading glimpses here and there of family vacations and holidays, not because of her but because of me. I suspect many who have younger siblings have a similar lack of remembrance. I was a teenager and as such, no one mattered but me and my friends. She was too young to be my friend, too young for us to have anything in common other than a family and an address.

I’m not sure when that started to change. Maybe when I went away to college and she came to stay with me one weekend. I remember taking her to The Strand, an old theater in Dover, New Hampshire that had been converted to show films, to see Flashdance. She was probably too young for it. In retrospect, I wonder if I was contributing to the delinquency of a minor. I do remember it being fun, taking my little sister along with my college friends. It was like having a pet, something to show off.

Khris with me at my second wedding

When I got married the first time, I asked her to be my maid of honor. I was 26, she was 19 and in college herself. We went shopping together for her dress; I think she appreciated that I was 100% against taffeta. We bought her a taupe-gray vintage dress that was really quite lovely. She stood next to me under the clouds as I said that I did, even though ultimately, I didn’t. At least not with him.

Fast forward to her getting her Master’s Degree in Psychology, to her coming to visit me out in California after I had gotten divorced, to her meeting John, then getting engaged and finally married. I remember the Christmas John proposed. I was out here, had been dating Kevin for less than a year, and I was missing my family. I was so thrilled to get her call, and yet so devastated to not be there to celebrate with her. At some point, she had become important to me and we had become friends without me even knowing it. When she got married, I was her maid of honor.

When Kevin and I got married, Khris made the trip with my mom and dad to be here for our celebration. She stood by me once again, and this time when I said that I did, I knew it was true. What we didn’t know at the time was that she was pregnant. Nine months or so later, my niece Shawn came along; then six years later, my nephew Caden was born. Their last name is Latulippe and when Shawn was little she referred to herself as Shawnie the tulip.

The Latulippes: Khris with Shawn, John with Caden

Khristan has become my trusted confidante, my closest friend and the one who is most often called upon in the family. It was Khris who called me early on the morning of September 11 to tell us what was going on (we never checked news that early out here; we do now); who told me when our dad died; who keeps me informed as to what’s happening with our mother. Mom will be having knee surgery soon and it falls to Khris to go to the doctor’s appointments with her; it will be Khris who will be there during the first nights when Mom comes home.

She has become the family’s pillar of strength, and I am forever grateful for her presence. Even though part of me will always see her as seven years old, she’ll never again be seen as an irritant.

So at the end of this week, for no reason and all reasons, I am celebrating you, my beautiful sister. 

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