In the preceding months, we had started planning to make a quilt for our mom as it is a hobby that the four of us share a love for. Kim masterminded the design and coordinated with Michelle and I to at least get this gift made in time. The days ticked by. Through an unhappy for her but serendipitous for us coincidence, Skip's wife Laurene, along with their kids, ended up being in Salt Lake for several weeks as her father was very ill. This kind of started the wheels turning again. If Michelle and I could find a way to get there, we would only have to get Skip on board to come as well so as to have all six kids in attendance. Lots of phone calls and texts were exchanged, schedules scrutinized, and suddenly a plan was taking shape.
Kim went ahead and posted on our family blog that there would be a family celebration of mom's birthday over Labor Day weekend. As far as she knew, only the Wasatch Front dwellers would be attending, exactly half of us. I purchased a plane ticket, Michelle planned a road trip, and Skip arranged to come to Salt Lake to drive home with his family as they would be returning to Seattle after the festivities. For several days leading up to Labor Day weekend, Kim and I were sewing like mad to get our quilt blocks done knowing we still had to piece them together in time for the party. Michelle was strangely unreachable in the preceding week, but we were hopeful things would come together.
A footnote to this whole birthday event is a somewhat significant subtext. Many people who know our family are aware that we have been going through some difficult times with one of my siblings. In the summer of 2010 immediately following our annual Ross reunion, my youngest sister, Debbie, made a jarring announcement. Many years prior, she had come out to our family as a lesbian. This was difficult for us to deal with as we are all active members of the LDS church. I feel we have done all that we can to be supportive and loving, but for various reasons the relationships have been strained. In August, Debbie told us of her realization that she was not a lesbian, but that she was actually suffering from gender identity disorder. For those who are unfamiliar, she was essentially saying that she believed she should have been a boy. Her plan was to undergo hormone therapy and surgery to become a man.
There is so much more to that story, but basically things have not been good amongst the siblings. My parents on the other hand, have never waivered. They have been the rock for all of us, Debbie most of all. Fastforward one year, and I have not been able to talk to my sister, Debbie, now my brother, Weston in 10 months. Recently, my mother has been encouraging the other five of us to reach out to try and heal the relationships that had become so confusing and painful. In all honesty, I told my mom that even though it was something I knew I needed to do, I simply did not have the emotional reserve to go there. Having a relationship with Weston over the last few years has been draining at best and excruciating in the majority. The summer had already been hard on me with the huge transition my own family was preparing to go through. I was alone, without my husband, leaving my home and security. Sometimes I felt like I was doing all I could to just hold it together emotionally. I was tapped. I could not deal. Yet.
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I have felt in many ways that I lost a sister this last year. I don't expect those who haven't been through it to understand, and I realize I may even be judged harshly for that statement. It is the truth. Yes, my sibling is still here. But Debbie is gone. There is a stranger in her place. In the hurried preparation to plan and execute my mom's birthday celebration, much of these thoughts remained quarantined in the private rooms of my mind, seldom unlocked and perused. Like I said, it is draining.
My scheduled departure to Salt Lake was on Saturday afternoon, the same day Corbin had his first race. we returned from Borger, and had a few hours to hang out at home before going to the airport. My anxiety was growing, rather surprising to me. Kim had not told Weston that Michelle, Skip, and I would be at the party in fear that he would not attend. Remember, strained. This had the potential to be really unpleasant. I wondered if mom's birthday was the time to do this, the first Ross family gathering since that momentous turning-point last summer. But things were set in motion. We were going ahead.
As I flew first to Dallas and then to Salt Lake, there were of course many hours to ponder. I thought a lot about Debbie. I thought about Weston. I don't know that I have reconciled the two even now in my mind. In fact, this post is the very first time that I have used the male pronouns and Weston's name in place of the little sister that I have known for the last 31 years. It feels fake and forced. Like when you have a part in a play. I am still trying to learn my lines. It still feels pretend.
Saturday evening, Michelle picked me up from the airport, and the dramatic subtext was pushed aside for the night. We sewed frantically into the wee hours, working for my mom, wanting so much for this gift to be special. Of course we talked about the party, the reunion of sorts, and the possible implications. We speculated about what might happen. Mostly we just enjoyed each others company. My sisters and I have a relationship like no other. We laughed a whole lot, and I felt my anxiety ease just a bit.
Sunday came, and we sewed some more with a break to attend church. The party was scheduled at 5 in the evening. As the time got closer, we actually had Kim push my parent's back a half an hour to ensure all of the kids would be there before my mom arrived. Some of them tend to run late, though I won't name names. We literally finished putting the last quilt pieces together at about 5:10 and most everyone had arrived. We hurriedly bustled about helping Kim and her family put the final touches on the party food and decorations. As we were rushing in and out of the house, from kitchen to backyard, Weston arrived through the side gate. I saw him out the kitchen window. My stomach did a little flip-flop. I realized I hadn't planned anything to say. What the heck was I going to say?
Skip and Brad were already milling around the yard with their families, kids were rushing about. I actually went out once and back in again without making eye contact. Finally, I steeled myself and walked out to where Weston was standing near the grill. I approached him and did the awkward side-arm hug thing. I think, "Glad to see you," were the words I croaked. He kinda nodded and mumbled a response. I am not actually sure what he said.
And then I was over that hurdle.
The party hour had arrived and knowing my mom's punctuality, we prepared to yell the traditional surprise as my Dad brought her into the yard. Nate was the lookout inside, but Kim decided to hurry in to check for stragglers. She told me later that Weston was in the kitchen retrieving keys in an apparent attempt to slip out before we even started. Kim pretended not to notice and told him to hurry into position. He obliged.
As my parents arrived, we giggled softly as my mom made all the expected exclamations when she saw the huge posters Kim had had made for the party, pictures of my mom through the decades including a va-va-voomy shot of her in a bathing suit. When we yelled, I think she was genuinely shocked. In fact, she didn't even advance into the yard until coaxed. It was cute. And so we had dinner, a fabulous Hannay affair, always delish.
After the feasting, we gave gifts and all of the children shared fun memories of my mom. We talked about all of her fantastic qualities like her thoughtful gift giving, what a fun grandma she is, her optimism and steadiness. I shared memories of my mom making tiny clothes for my barbies when I was a girl, and of sending my own children to her house for sleepovers and pancake breakfasts. I was emotional thinking about the sweet years we spent together in Page before their move to Salt Lake, and how I relished the bond she developed with my boys. I loved when Kim talked about the familiar phrase that my mom always said when we left the house. There was never a day when she didn't tell each of us to, "Have a good day." Each sibling had an opportunity to pay a very small tribute to the woman who has given us everything.
When it was Weston's turn to share, he said a few lighthearted words about his memories of our mom letting him be who he was even when he was a different child. I wondered what was going through my mom's mind. I know that the few words he shared could be construed to mean a lot of things. I wanted him to say more. I admit I even felt a twinge of irritation. Again, there is so much more to that whole story, but suffice it to say, Weston owes everything to my parents, especially my mom. I am not sure he can ever say enough about that. Like I said, she has been a ROCK!
As the night wore on, everyone had a chance to mingle with everyone. It was a gorgeous September night. The weather and the conversation were mild. The best part of the evening was the fact that it was all about my mom. Because in her life, it never is! She is always all about everyone else. Always!
The hour grew late, little kids had to get home to bed, and travelers had to prepare to depart. Just like that, things were coming to a close. The event had passed. We had not only survived, but savored.
The next day, us girls went for brunch before my flight left. My mom, Kim, Michelle, and I. We are the girls now. I guess I am the baby sister.
All I know as I look back on the fantastic weekend of celebrating my mom's 70th birthday is that I can only hope to be a great woman like she is someday! She is such a beautiful, talented, tenacious, incredible person, a true lady! I love you, Mom. Happy Birthday!