We Call Her Bean

bean&mewedding.jpg

She was born on August 4, 1977, when I was five years old, all chubby and delicious, with big blue eyes and a whisper of thin blond hair as golden as straws of wheat. She was an unplanned surprise, like all of us were really, but she was the best one our family had seen in a long while. Up until her birth, I had been the youngest, a little sister to my older sister and brother, the three of us born in the short span of a harried four years for our mother.

So when she came, a lengthy five years later, we were all excited for the arrival of "our baby." I welcomed my new role as big sister, and didn't so much mind relinquishing my old post as the baby of the family, especially because now I had a baby I could call my own... a real live doll, one to kiss and care for and love.

She was the cutest baby I had ever seen, of course, and was an even cuter toddler. My brother dubbed her "Bean," I'm not exactly sure why, but I think because she was chubby and plump like a jelly bean or something similar to that he envisioned in his head. As strange and obscure as it was, like so many other words and phrases our brother came up with, it is what we, her three siblings, all inevitably began to call her.

Although I know I definitely bossed her around at times when we were kids, in some of the normal and expected ways a big sister would, what I most remember is wanting to protect and include her, more than antagonize or exclude her. (Yet, I wonder if she would agree with my recollection.) She was the first person I mothered, before I became a mother myself; and it was a role didn't know I would want to play, but one I took very seriously.

Halloween 1978. a one year old bean on my lap with my clown makeup and costume removed.

Halloween 1978. a one year old bean on my lap with my clown makeup and costume removed.

Apart from being my little sister, she was also my playmate, and my friend. I played Barbies with her A LOT, even when I was supposedly too old to play Barbies. We both loved Garfield, playing music and watching TV sitcoms. We played house, rode bikes, and swam in our pool. We were the last two kids in the house together with our Mom, once our older sister and brother went off to college; and although we had very different personalities, with a five year age difference that felt more vast the older we got, we were bound by sisterhood and always found some common ground to hang out and have fun together while at home.

When it was finally my turn to leave for college, she was only thirteen years old. I felt a pull to stay, like I didn't want to go too far and leave her there alone with only my mom to influence her. She needed her big sister, I hoped, to help guide and protect her; and I didn't want to leave, blink, and find her grown up without me witnessing it or being a part of it. So I came home from school many weekends over those four years at UC Irvine, just to be there sometimes. To see her grow through her teenage years. To just not miss it. I felt an obligation to her, like she was still my baby just as she was when I was little. My baby sister. The kid I looked out for and took care of in one way or another since she first became that little chubby Bean. I didn't want to relinquish that role, or shirk the responsibility I felt, and the desire I had, to be a presence in her life.

I think I have always felt this way, even through her and my adulthood. It only lessened slightly when I had children of my own; and has had to lessen even more since she has shown less of a need for my support and counsel; as you can't mother someone who ceases to need your mothering. But it is still there, even in the times when she's doing amazing and thriving in her life and career. That desire to watch over her is in me. Wanting to protect her, and to make sure she is okay.

It will probably always be there, in my heart, even until we are two old ladies, wrinkled and gray, (hopefully) chuckling about how we once were so worried about life and how things were going to turn out for us in the end. And how I once called her Bean. Who knows, I probably will be calling her that even then, as it's still what I call her to this day.

This day, in which I am hurriedly trying to write about her between refereeing my kids squabbles, is the day she turns forty years old. This baby of our nuclear family - the one who is also considered the baby of our whole extended family, as the youngest child, sibling, grandchild, and cousin of 25 first cousins, born to seven children of which our dad is the youngest - is now 40. I would venture to guess that all of those older cousins of ours who may be reading this are probably standing in disbelief of that fact.

But really, whatever about 40. It is only a number. The only reason I mention it here is as an indication of the passage of time. As a reference point to how far we've come in life and how much time we've had together on this Earth. My siblings and I have been, and will always remain, the closest people to one another, even in the absence of time spent together or distance spread between us; as we have gone through so much together that no one else can fully comprehend other than the four of us. So much I won't even begin to touch on here, as that is a different piece for me to write on a different day in time.

So for today, on my little sister's 40th birthday, as we are far from being those wrinkled and gray old ladies, with the end of our lives nowhere near upon us (God willing), and still not knowing how life and things will ultimately turn out for us in the end, I have many wishes for her...

I wish for her the absence of worry for those unknowns. I wish for her the faith that her life's journey is unfolding just as it is meant to do so. I wish for her to always find peace in her heart, joy in her soul, love in her life, and (my ever loving favorite) HOPE ⚓ in her life's daily adventure. I wish for her the knowledge of her power, her strength, and her resilience; and I wish for her the confidence in knowing that she already possesses all that she needs to live a fulfilling life. It is, and has always been, inside of her.

This child, who was a gift to our family, has grown into a beautiful woman; and I am proud to call her my sister. She is now, and will forever be, our Bean.


Happy Birthday, Bean. Thank you for coming to us, making me a big sister, and brightening our family with your light and love. And thank you for being my friend, then and now. I love you!

Sister On

When I was eighteen years old and my sister was twenty, our mother took us on a whirlwind trip to Europe for three weeks in the summer of 1990. We bounced around Italy, France and Spain to see all that Rome, Florence, Sorrento, Pompeii, Piza, Naples, Capri, Venice, Nice, Monaco, Monte Carlo, Cannes, St. Tropez and Barcelona had to offer. From climbing hundreds of stairs to the top of the Vatican dome, marveling (staring) at the gorgeous and otherworldly statue of David, sunbathing (with tops) at a topless beach along the Riviera, to witnessing a Spanish bullfight and getting a sneak peek at the 1992 Olympic Village two years before its global audience experienced it, my sister and I explored Europe with our brash and brazen mother as two young girls still discovering who we were and what our place in the world was destined to be.

Our mom was wild at heart, to say the least, and my sister and I each had (and still have) a touch of that tumultuous part of her within us, although it was expressed in vastly different manners.

While I was outspoken and opinionated in my inner circle, I was much more conservative around people I didn’t know. There was always (and still is) an unbridled passion and fire in me, one that intimidated me when I was younger to the point that I overcompensated by keeping it buried inside and hidden from most, leading me to maintain a much more shy and innocent external demeanor.

On the other hand, my older sister (being the middle child) was the more quiet presence and peacemaker within our family dynamic; yet she blossomed into an artistic, free-spirited, social butterfly when out and about in the world. Although it's true that she and I did put on our share of amateurish dancing and singing acts for relatives in our youth (and even sometimes for our father's captive audiences of his shows while we visited him on tour), it was around our peers that my sister often seemed to express herself much more freely that I did.

She was vastly more comfortable and gregarious around complete strangers than I, and she was always (and still is) a very dynamic and charismatic personality to behold and enjoy. She was the unwitting piped piper to my cautious follower, and I wished I had more of her unabashed ability to entertain and delight those in my presence as she so often seemed to be able to do in hers. Yet she did manage to bring me out of my reserved shell part of the time, often lovingly (and sometimes not so) bullying me to become Ethel to her Lucy, leading me to do things I would never have done on my own.

Our European adventure that summer of '90 began in Rome, where we stepped out for dinner at the swanky Jackie O’ Ristorante one of the first nights there. Mom asked this random Italian man to pose in a photo with us, her young and relatively innocent daughters who were new to this city and just a bit apprehensive of what rollicking and risky predicaments our mother was going to get us into this time. Of course, my sister charmed and relaxed into the moment, in her usual style, as I stood awkwardly by, not feeling entirely confident in that same moment, nor in my young, eighteen-year-old fair skin.

My sister and I with an admirer at the Jackie O' Ristorante, Roma, Italia - August 1990

My sister and I with an admirer at the Jackie O' Ristorante, Roma, Italia - August 1990

And so it was for the remainder of our vacation in Europe, as well as in our life's journey for quite some years after... my sister vibrantly posing in front of monuments, performing perfect arabesques in the middle of the ruins of the ancient Roman Coliseum, and subsequently dancing, adventuring, exploring, working and discovering more of the world on her own unique terms, thus encapsulating my mom’s adventurous spirit in her own unique way.

Traveling out of our native Los Angeles, beyond California, and outside the U.S., she danced and entertained as a member of a modern dance troupe and then later worked as a sports photography editor at some of the most internationally prestigious sporting events around the world, while I joined the other spectators around her to revel in and marvel at her confidence, expressiveness and talent.

Today, my sister and I are closer in proximity, lifestyle, and mindset than we have been most of our lives. As our mom has since passed, leaving us nearly ten years ago on the eve of us both becoming mothers ourselves, we have been left to raise our children without her here to help us with whatever it is mothers do for their adult daughters while raising their kids. We now lean on each other for counsel, guidance, support, and friendship as we navigate these years of adventures, adversities, and anomalous achievements in mothering and spousing and womaning... sometimes not knowing what the hell we are doing but doing it anyway, always grateful to know we at least have one another to go through our successes and struggles together.

 As I sat down this morning to write a quick anecdote about my sister on her birthday today, this is what came out of me instead. I originally wanted to share just a short story about her that I could post with the photo of us in front of the Jackie O' in Rome on Instagram, but it seems I had much more to say than I thought. I'm just going with it.

We are not only sisters in blood, sharing the same childhood memories and adulthood realities that connect us; we are also sisters in a larger sisterhood, sharing a friendship and kinship with one another, and all women, as we work and fight and love our way through the varied stages of womanhood, motherhood, and adulthood. A lot of 'hoods going on, I know, but the best of them is the sisterhood that binds us.

In the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, our sister in this collective sisterhood...

Sister On.

And to my sister today and always... I love you. Happy Birthday!