Monday, July 24, 2006


This is my current work of art.

Double shot iced cappuccino grande, por favor. Made in the privacy of my own home on my Gaggia semi-automatic machine with Peet's Garuda beans that are ground 'a la minute' in my Solis Maestro burr grinder, dusted off with the crunch of raw cane sugar. My heatwave antidote.

Ah….doesn't get any better than this.

My sister came to visit this weekend. I love my sister and so does Sienna. It was lovely to watch them play "beauty hair" and frolic together in the sprinkler or do "art." They even made soup together--some watery flour concoction with sugar and a dash of dishsoap "so you won't have to wash up afterwards" breaking in the pink chef's hat and apron she brought her.

My sister and I have grown closer. It wasn't always that way. In fact, this shift only happened as adults. When the three children (and our parents) all scattered to opposite ends of the country, it was really my sister and I who decided to finally bury the hatchet so to speak and be each other's family, gathering at the holidays. Beginning in our mid-20s, we did our best to keep the spirit alive and create our own little "family," determined to overcome negative childhood holiday memories. I remember I'd go to Minneapolis, or she'd come to New York, one time it was Kentucky, and later, once we all got to know each other better, we asked Dad to join us and we made it San Antonio, the site of some long-lost cousins of Dad's I had found on a road trip. Together we wanted to share the wealth. Heal the past. Spread good cheer around those who wanted it. Usually it was my sister, her daughter and myself. My brother had been incommunicado for years.

My mother was usually not included in these gatherings, but that's another story for another day. Neither of us felt welcome back in her home and even when my sister settled back in Minneapolis, the same town my mother has always lived in, I stayed with her, not at my mother's. I believe that must have been a sore point for my mother, but she never made any effort to invite or welcome or specifically make us feel we belonged back in that house. I just remember her screaming, "You'd better be out of this house by the time you turn 18!" So for the most part, that was that.

Anyway, after years of deciding to "be each other's family" (as if we were in denial up to that point), my sister and I ultimately grew into our sisterly relationship. Perhaps we've both grown up a bit, or perhaps it is because now that I am a mom too, we share something deeper. Her daughter came years ago, almost 23 years to be exact, as she fulfilled our mother's prophecy to a T:
"Don't EVER get married or have children!"

By 20, my sister was married and pregnant. Daughter at 21. Separated that same year. Divorced by 22. Endless years spent trying to track him down through the courts for child support. Is there an echo in here?

She did her motherhood journey early on. I waited until my eggs had matured. She did hers alone. I waited until I found a partner.

I was just thinking how nice it is to have an "auntie" for Sienna to see regularly. I remember how great it was to be "T'auntie Tanya" to her daughter when she was young, and how she confided in me when she was afraid to go to her mother as a teenager. Sienna also has another auntie from Chris' side on the other coast, but we're lucky if we see her once a year due to geographics. Fortunately for us, my sister's job brings her out here on business several times a year so they're building a nice bond together. Plus it is such a relief to have the focus be on someone else for a change. I actually get a bit of a break.

It must be nice to have family around to help raise your children. I am envious of those with built-in grandmas and aunties or even cousins nearby who can cover you in a pinch or allow you to have a night out once in a while without having to pay for it. I also like seeing the friendship and bond spread out in a wider circle than our tight little threesome. I guess that's "the village" many of us are lacking. Sure, I've built one with other mothers in the neighborhood, in the local online moms group, at the preschool, and that has been a lifeline for me--such a blessing, you have no idea. Still, it's nice to have actual family, healthy (female) family, to share in Sienna's upbringing.

When my sister and I were young we were true sisters. We fought, we clawed, she left scratch marks up my arms. One time our mother said, "If you don't stop scratching your sister, I'll have to clip your nails off like the cat's." (The cat was declawed.) My sister always had long, thick nails, not the flimsy paper thin ones I rarely had since I always bit mine. I was defenseless against her when she decided to attack.

She also went through the thing where she was embarrassed to be seen with me…her younger "tag along" sister.

We used to take dance classes at the professional ballet studio across town near skid row. Dancers and dance companies are notoriously broke so their studios are never on the good side of town. More like in some warehouse on the farthest reaches of gentrification. My mother couldn't be bothered to do the whole soccer mom pickup and drop off thing, so we took the city bus from a very early age. It was the 70s afterall. Freedom, liberation, independence. It was 20¢ a ride back then. My mother would dole out exact change for us to ride together: one quarter, one dime and one nickel. After class, we'd catch a ride home with another family. My sister, being the oldest was supposed to look out for me. I was probably 8 then, maybe 9. I kept the coins in a fuzzy little turquoise drawstring pouch I'd crocheted, and stuffed that deep in my white bush jacket pocket.

In retrospect, I'm not sure how my mother afforded dance lessons, not to mention piano and cello lessons, and later voice lessons for me and gymnastics for my sister, because we were always broke and living in scarcity, or so I thought. Nevertheless, we did have all those lessons growing up. Perhaps we weren't as impoverished as she made us out to be. Or maybe that was the only way she knew how to show love for us…guilt offerings steeped in culture. I don't know. It got us out of the house. Maybe it was cheaper than a babysitter.

One time, while waiting for the bus to take us across the bowels of Minneapolis for dance class, my sister decided she didn't want to be seen with me. Before she left she pinned me with her claws and demanded I give her the quarter. Whatever battle ensued, she won it. All I had left was the nickel and dime, not enough for bus fare. I screamed at her, I ran after her tag along style, but she took off well ahead of me. I couldn't keep up. Heart pounding in my chest, fear of being left alone, not being able to get on the bus, missing my class, having to tell mom, the whole ball of fear threatened to swallow me alive. I could see a bus coming…she ran up ahead towards it and just got on. I was a block behind. In order to make the bus, I had to run back to the next bus stop as they weren't on every block. Narrowly missing the bus, flagging it down, I somehow managed to stammer my way onto the bus, deposit my not-quite-enough fare, ask for my orange transfer slip, trying my best to explain to the bus driver we were together, that she had already put in the rest of the money for us, and all the while glaring ahead, my sister wouldn't even look at me let alone sit with me. We traveled in silence, apart, both fuming. Maybe she thought it was funny.

Our father had already left us, my mother wasn't there, and now my older sister who might have been an ally was also shunning me. I was in a cursed family. But by the time we got to ballet class, I got focused. Everything melted away into the dance.


Suzy said...

Love the flow of the piece- the relationship of Sienna and your sister-and all the way back to you and your sister. Loved the expression "whole ball of fear" and especially the description of trying to catch up with the bus.
Great memories Tanya. Great details.

Lee Wolfe Blum said...

bowels of Minneapolis :)great visual.
Keep writing Tanya. I want more :)

Carrie Wilson Link said...

I completely agree with Suzy and Lee. I'm also supremely jealous of your deluxe espresso making machines!