I can remember the first day that you arrived from China like the back of my hand. I even remember what I was wearing, how I had spent pain-staking hour by hour the night before, choosing the right outfit to welcome my new baby sister into our family. (Apparently, my outfit of choice was a Calvin Klein jean dress and a red bandana colored headband. What can I say, sis, I wasn't as fashion forward as we'd all like to admit 12 years ago.)
You looked so incredibly frightened and yet so incredibly strong all at the same time as I watched Dad walk off the plane. I had never seen so much sorrow, pain, darkness and fear trapped within the lines of a soft cherub face. Your skin was so pale, speckled with red dots of scabies that made your cheeks appear to have a permanent flush. It wasn't until we got you home, after hours of intense screaming on your part, (quite understandably out of fear from being in a foreign country, in a foreign house, around foreign people speaking a foreign tongue) while giving you your first real bath that we saw the scabies were all over your distended stomach and your little legs and arms.
But in that night, although you seemed so incredibly frail and scared, I could see in you an amazing strength and light deep in your eyes. I just felt it when I held you. You and I became true sisters that night. It might have been sparked by the fact that you would not let anyone else but me near you for the next three months, but eventually it transformed into this bonding relationship and learning experience that I thank you so much for. I thank you for choosing me to be your rock, your comfort and your closeness for those first months.
Even though I struggled to hold your 13-month old frame in my arms, being only 9 years older than you myself, I would rock you back and forth shifting the weight from my left side to the right side all the while keeping my arms wrapped tightly around your body. You refused to let me sit down in the rocking chair in your nursery as long as your eyes were wide awake, which was almost always until 3 am, when my arms had long since started tingling from numbness and my legs and knees ached with the weight. Every so often I would sneak closer to the crib bar, leaning my body against it ever so slightly, tilting my head to the side to see if your head was really beginning to droop against my shoulder. As soon as I'd feel the deadweight of your head lying against my shoulder in deep slumber, it would be right then that I'd try to find a clear window of freedom to lay you gently into your crib. This could prove to be one of two things: extremely successful or an incredibly horrible attempt gone crazywild wrong. It usually was the second one.
As time went on, you felt more comfortable allowing people into your "zone": the area that you played in, the area that you ate in, the person who held you while you drank your bottle, the person you let get close enough to you to give you a bath...as your stay with us grew longer and longer, you no longer felt the need to hold me as a security blanket in all your activities. Except when you became extremely sick and dehydrated. Mom had tried to feed you Pedialyte in your baby bottle, hoping to get some electrolytes into your system to calm your tears and your fevers, but you would have none of this. Much like you have grown to be now, you were incredibly stubborn, and very quiet about it as well. You would just push the bottle away from your lips, even if you looked as if you really wanted it - unless it was me holding the bottle, of course.
Soon, you learned that Mom could just as easily, if not more efficiently, calm your fears, feed you, change you, and be there as much as I was. It seemed that everything was gradually following a new routine, and that you were now beginning to form the bond with Mom that she had desperately wanted to have with you from the start.
Until the blanket of darkness that came with the night.
It was the first night that Mom and I had decided to let her put you to bed. I had coached her the entire day with all of the little quirks that you had taught me in helping me put you to bed. To hold one arm under your butt and rub your back in circular motions, and how every once in a while you loved to feel the tips of my fingers gently rub along your adorable little toes as they curled and I could feel your chest heave a deep and relaxing sigh. How you only liked one tape of lullabies called "Sleep Sound in Jesus". You would make me play it over and over again - immediately starting right after your bath when I would press my face into your sweet fresh smelling skin to make you giggle. Eventually, I would let the tape side run out and just continue singing the songs that you and I both knew by heart, lying you into your crib and rubbing my hand along your back and against your cheek.
This one was your favorite lullaby, I explained to Mom:
Sleep sound in Jesus, my baby, my dear
We're keeping watch, so there's nothing to fear
As I lay you down in your bed tonight
Sleep sound in Jesus till morning is light.
So that night, as I uncharacteristically climbed the stairs to my bedroom at an actual decent hour, instead of crawling into the comfort of my own bed with exhaustion, I stopped at the top of the stairs and closed my eyes. I waited as I heard Mom's voice cooing with you outside of the bathroom. I listened intently to make sure that she turned on your lullaby music just as you liked it. And then I went through our night ritual in my mind, hoping that Mom had paid attention to the instructions I had given her. Hoping that you wouldn't cry for her.
And you didn't. In fact, as she walked into her bedroom, and I hung over the railing asking her repeatedly how it went, she said that you fell asleep like a little angel. And as much as I felt a sigh of relief that Mom was finally beginning to bond with you finally, there was a part of me that felt a little sad, knowing that soon, you wouldn't need me at all. I feared we wouldn't be as close ever again. I tried to wipe out my fears as I climbed into my bed and fell asleep.
At around 3 am, I began to toss and turn across my bed when I suddenly felt my foot hit something at the foot of the bed. I knew that I hadn't put any of my babydolls or my pillows there, so I couldn't imagine what I had hit. I immediately sat up in bed and blinked hard in the darkness, forcing my eyes to focus and adjust. That was when I saw you. Sleeping in the fetal position, at the foot of my bed.
My heart pounded with a bit of sadness and joy all at the same time. I crawled out of the sheets and grabbed your small frame from around your belly and pulled you underneath my covers with me - and you nestled your face into my pillow and pulled me closer to you as you slept.
We certainly don't sleep in the same bed anymore. We don't even talk as much as I'd like us to, mostly because you have found that girls your own age and our brother who is closer in age to you than me are better conversationalists when it comes to the latest manga of Naruto or who scored what goal in last Saturday's soccer game.
I had always envisioned that I would be all of the big sister to you as I had always wanted when I was your age. But I realize as you have hit age thirteen that we are total polar opposites with only common interests here and there. You must look at me as the embarrassing older sister who sits for hours on YouTube.com watching old 80's music videos and singing along at the top of my lungs versus me wanting to be the cool big sister that you look up to, and feel comfortable coming to about anything.
I hope that no matter what happens between us, even though we don't talk every day, that when I say "I love you" I really mean it from the deepest and most bottom-est part of my heart. And that when I hug you and kiss your cheek, that I still feel that same strength and light that I felt 12 years ago when I held you in the middle of the night to save you from the nightmares. There is no doubt in my mind that you will grow to be the most amazing, intelligent and perservering young woman and individual. Welcome to the rest of your life, my dear little sister. There will be highs as bright as the sunrising in the horizon on a beautiful summer day of endless possibilities and there will be lows as dark and rainy as a night filled with endless clasping thunderstorms, and loneliness sometimes that will nibble away so achingly at every last bit of your heart till you think you can't take it anymore. But I will always be here for you. To help you up when you make your biggest mistakes, and encourage you even further when you accomplish all of your goals.
Happy Birthday, Nate-Gate! I love you!
-your Big Sis, The Brave