One sunny summer afternoon, my mom looked away from the dishes in the sink and out the window towards the playground, and was startled to see that my sister Lala, then age 4, was beating the crap out of a boy twice her size and age. Also age 8, I stood idly by, watching tiny Lala pummel the poor kid into submission. Mom ran outside and pulled her off of the bruised boy, who had been cowering under his arms and had tears and snot dripping from his face. She shouted at Lala, "What are you doing!?!" Lala's simple, flat reply was, "He was picking on Shadow and she told me to beat him up so I did." Enraged, Mom whirled around to me and shouted, "You fight your own battles or you fight together. You don't send your little sister in to fight your battles for you. What were you thinking?"
That is one of my top five Shadow's in Big Trouble moments, but it is also one of the moments in which I am most proud of Lala. That's how things were back then; I was the timid, meek one and Lala was the ballsy one who didn't seem to be afraid of anything. I was proud of her, not for fighting, but for being a fighter. She always seemed to have a courage that I did not, and though she was my little sister, I looked up to her for that.
*****Curled in blankets with my chin propped on a pillow, I buried myself in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as Lala labored through the night. The youngest of us three and age 13 at the time, Bean was the makeshift doula that I could not be, trading shifts of back rubbing and whispered soothing with my mother. I wanted to be there, needed to be there, but I also needed to keep somewhat of an emotional wall between myself and the delivery for which I had felt both excitement and dread.
The removal of her pain seemed to remove some of mine, and as I sat next to her on the bed, it was almost easy to forget that she was in labor. I joked around with her and made her laugh to lighten the mood and help her relax. She doesn't know it, but that time is one of my most cherished moments with her.
After an hour or so a nurse came in to check her progression. She asked Lala if she felt like she had to push, to which Lala responded that she didn't. The nurse tilted her head and gave a curt, "Hmm," then hustled out of the room. The urgency of her steps indicated to us that delivery must have been a lot closer than forecast. The nurse returned a few minutes later pushing a cart of sterile medical instruments before her and as she turned up the brightness of the lights and began adjusting the bed into delivery mode, she explained that Lala had gone from 3 cm to 9.5 cm in just over an hour and that it was almost time for her to start pushing. She also turned down the epidural so that Lala could feel the contractions and know when to push, and almost immediately Lala was again in pain.
Mom didn't yet have a cell phone, so I had no way to contact her. Worried that our mother wouldn't make it back in time for her delivery, Lala's panic seemed to rise with each increasingly difficult contraction. Finally, the OB arrived and took his place on the stool at the foot of the bed. I was instructed to stand at Lala's left side and pull back on her leg. In calm tones, the doctor and nurses encouraged her to push with each contraction. She arched her back against the contractions instead of curling into them; it was apparent that Lala wasn't putting forth enough effort, as she was fearful the impending change, and fearful of making that change into a mother without hers at her side. She turned her sweat-dampened face to me and whimpered, "I can't." I locked eyes with her and with a deep, forceful voice urged, "You can, and you will. Now, push!" Finally, she took a deep breath, tucked her chin, and bore down, and I could see the baby's head inching further out than before.
Within the next five minutes Mom and Bean arrived, both saying that they had been standing in the aisle of the store when they were suddenly overcome with the need to get back to the hospital. They had rushed out, not knowing, but sensing that they were needed. Their arrival further bolstered Lala's confidence, and within minutes of them getting back Tron was born. It was an overwhelming moment. However, as the weeks and months after his birth passed, it soon became apparent that the moment he left her body, so did the fighter in her.
Now, it seems that Lala is the one who is timid and meek, too frightened of the world to step out into it and fight. I am fighting the motherhood battles that she should. Time has folded over on itself and in the present we are eight years in the past - me willing her to push and she in labor, now giving birth to herself.
It might seem that Lala is the bane of my existence. When I speak of her, it is usually in reference to the span of time that she was pregnant at age 17, which collided with my second unfulfilled year of trying to conceive. The reality is that she is highly intelligent, articulate, and has a lot of potential; the trouble is that she doesn't know it. This potential is being wasted away, atrophied by her fear of moving forward, up, and out.
By moving out, I mean both figuratively and literally. She is nearly 26 years of age and though she has earned a Bachelor's degree in a marketable and potentially lucrative field, she has yet to put it to use with a career or even actively looked for employment. Even the job offers that fell into her lap - which ranged from technical college instructor to convenience store cashier - she let slide to the floor with slippery excuses that were lubricated by her fear of independence.
Nearly a year ago, Miguel and I accepted guardianship of my eight year old nephew Tron after Lala announced, in a family meeting at my kitchen table, her plans to move to an unfamiliar city three hours north of here. In her heart of hearts, she knew that at least for the time being and possibly for longer, she could not be the mother that Tron deserved to have. Her inability to turn decisions into actions did not hinder her from doing what was best for her son. However, this tendency to inaction has left her here, still in my mother's apartment with half-packed boxes from the relocation that never came to fruition. She's unmoved, unemployed, and unable to make steps towards starting her life.
She's unmoved, unemployed, and unable to make steps towards starting her life.
I wrote those entries over a year ago and there has not been one difference.
We love Tron - fiercely so - and neither one of us can even begin to understand how she can do this to him. Allow me to clarify - fact that we are raising him (likely for forever) is not the issue here. When she made the decision to let us parent him, we told her that there was no expiration date on Tron's time here. We told her that when she got herself financially stable, we wouldn't be impatiently tapping our feet waiting for her to come get Tron, and that if she determined that the best place for him really was with us, then he would always be welcome here.
What is the issue, however, is that her actions, better yet, her inactions are whittling layers of him away. The first year that he was here, she would tell him that once she moved north and got a job, she would come for him. The thing is, she never left. It took a year for her to realize that the "lover" who was supposed to be coming to get her so they could start their life together (which supposedly was to be the very next weekend after that meeting at the kitchen table) never had any intentions of doing so in the first place. A whole, flippin' year. No longer waiting for the move that was never going to happen, she let another year slip by. Two years of nothing.
Tron doesn't ask when she's going to move and get a job so that he can be with her anymore.
We use our love and nurturing to smooth away the brittle edges she cracks in his fragile surface, and we do a good job of it. To answer Lori's question, despite his circumstances, Tron is well-adjusted, smart, funny, and settled, but sometimes...well, Lala comes to visit for a few days and when she leaves, he falls apart. Miguel and I put the pieces of his heart back together again, but he's getting older. Age brings increasing levels of maturity and comprehension, and we can see his heart breaking in different ways as he realizes for himself all the things about his mother that we already know.
The unconditional part of his love for her is eroding, and the sad thing is that I'm not even sure if she sees that.