I grew up as the only little boy in a house of many girls. My father and I were always heavily outnumbered, sharing a three-bedroom home with as many as six females. That's a lot of estrogen in very tight corners, and I'd be lying if I said there weren't days when I fantasized about having been born an only child.
There was one bathroom, which was bad enough before three of them wound up in the 45-minute shower/half-hour in the mirror afterward phase at the same time. Thankfully, we had a tree-lined alley behind the house, but to this day the sound of a blow dryer gives me an anxiety-laden flashback.
I was a senior in high school when my family got its first cell phone – one of those “bag-phone” numbers that gave you only 30 minutes each month and then charged you through the nose for each nanosecond afterward (obviously, none of us ever spoke on it). So, for all intents and purposes, my childhood was one of landlines and long distance charges.
Again, having three sisters worked to my disadvantage in this arena. Actually using the phone was out of the question, of course. In fact, I didn't even hear a dial tone for 10 years, just the various high-pitched, giggling voices of prepubescent girls that I would hear anytime I tried to pick up one of the three receivers in the house.
In the end, it was the ringing that got to me – the constant chorus of those three distinct sounds blaring in unison, hundreds if not thousands of times each day. When I got my first place of my own, my grandmother would always ask why my answering machine picked up – wasn't I ever home? Yes, but it became a habit to turn off the ringer and bathe in the beautiful silence. To this day, my neck stiffens a bit every time a phone rings, just one more battle scar of the multi-sistered male.
|My sister Jenny with her middle son Landon|
My sister Jennifer Ann and I are what they call Irish twins – two children born to same couple in January and December of the same calendar year, 1974 in our case. We were as different as night and day. She was bookish and shy, I was trouble on toast, and we fought like cats and dogs until we were well into our teens and finally became close, eventually going to the same university and even living on the same floor of the same dormitory one year.
Today, Jenny has three beautiful boys, the eldest of which, Spencer, will soon be entering his senior year of high school. Now well over six-foot, he's the spitting image of me when I was that age and looks much more like myself than my own son does. To see flashbacks of my own youth in his pictures is an oddly surreal experience.
Her younger two, Landon and Carson, are rapscallions of the highest order, and I can't get enough of them when I'm home. She was pregnant with Landon at the exact time my ex-wife was carrying Sullivan. In fact, they had the same due date – March 10. With both unions Irish on all sides, it was greatly anticipated that one would go late and deliver on the big day. Jenny went early, narrowly avoiding a February 29 leap year birthday, while Sullivan came through on the 17th, giving us that St. Paddy's baby we were all hoping for.
These days, Jenny is far from shy but still a voracious reader. A former DCF case worker, she eventually started her own pre-school – with the adorable name Scribbles & Giggles. She showers her own children with the same blend of love, structure and discipline that has made her a success in her field. It shows in the trio of fine young men she's raising into the world.
Jen is the kind of parent that you're grateful to know is out in the world; hyper-involved though not overly indulgent; ready to dole out discipline when needed, but in a way that teaches the lesson that had yet to be learned. It's a privilege to have her in my son's life and an honor to claim those three boys as nephews.
|Billie Jo with her son Trip|
Billie Jo, whom my parents were certain was going to be a boy they planned to name Joseph William (wait, if we just switch it around and add an "ie" at the end?) is five years my junior. I have vague recollections of her crawling on the floor as a toddler, so to see her with her own rug rat crawling on the very same floors no less, is a reminder of both the many years which have gone by and the circle of life that connects them.
We were very close growing up, as I was often charged with having her tag along on the days of summer vacation, when we were sent off in the morning and told to come home at supper time. I was fresh out of college and doing a military stint when she went off to school and have fond memories of that brief period when we were both young adults at the same time.
She lives in Connecticut these days, and I unfortunately see very little of her and my nephew Trip, but that only makes the sporadic wedding and funeral interfaces more precious. She'll give birth to her second child this summer, and it is a comfort to know that such a wonderful, loving mother will again be shepherding a young child through this life.
Ashley Nicole is seven years my junior and gave birth to her first child just over a year ago. A gorgeous little girl with gigantic, crystal blue eyes and the most pleasant demeanor, she stole my heart even before I'd been told she'd been given our family name. Maley Pearl is nothing short of adorable, and I'd give my eye teeth to have her live closer than Chicago.
Ashley with Maley Pearl
photo by Jenna Reese Photography
Ashley and I are particularly close, even though she was still just a little girl when I left home for good. As adults, we've built a relationship that I treasure. Stuck in something of a rut in her mid-20's, I invited her to move to Florida with me and will never forget our time as adult roommates. She met her husband here and though they've since moved halfway across the country, I look forward to our Sunday phone dates with a child's anticipation. In fact, my neck doesn't even stiffen when she rings my phone.
Ashley has followed in the footsteps of our own mom, with two beautiful foster children who she also blesses with her motherly love. Little Stevie and Christina Beana share that same rascal gene, and it's no surprise that they are also special favorites of Uncle Dennis, who for obvious reasons has always had a soft spot for the rule-breakers and mischief-makers of our clan.
As we all know, being a parent is a special responsibility. From a macro perspective, I've always felt as though bringing someone into this world, where they will be consuming ever-so-dwindling resources and adding to the many mouths to feed, means we should feel a responsibility to rear children who, as adults, will give more to the world than they take; to raise people who will be better than we are and perhaps capable of making this troubled world a better place.
Doing that often means making hard decisions and not giving in to the many temptations to be the hero, when something less (though ultimately more) is required. Everyone wants ice cream, but it's not always what's best. While that's an obvious impasse, any parent knows that there are a multitude of more subtle ones to navigate along the way, should you want to raise an adult who is well-suited to making good decisions.
My sisters are multiplying themselves many times over, and I have no doubt that the world will be better off as a result – filled with a few more fine young men and women at their expense. I am honored to wish them a Happy Mother's Day and thank them for the flock of precious nieces and nephews they've conferred to me. Sisters really do make the best mothers and for that, this world is already much better off. If you're as lucky as I am, don't forget to thank yours today.
Similar columns by Dennis Maley: