Gettin’ Grown

Things that are not news to other people but was news to me: It is a fascinating perspective, watching someone go from newborn to adult. I can feel all the parents, grandparents, aunts, etc. side-eyeing me with a soft, ‘duh, Bails.’

But I’m not a parent (or grandparent), and while I am an aunt, I’m not talking about my nieces or nephew.

Less than 2 weeks ago, my youngest sister, Emmalee, graduated from Grand Canyon University’s Nursing School and I cried, y’all.

With my trip cancelled in January, I didn’t have another other adventuring on the books until Baker (sub-90 days now! It’s real! I had to pay the grown-ass invoice!). My parents invited me to come to AZ for Em’s graduation and some post-grad National Park work – and at this stage in the game anywhere with hikes/elevation is helpful to the game. Flat Chicago is my boo but also, she flat and the mountains I’m gonna climb are decidedly not.

My relationship with the 4th born gap bb as a 2nd-born-but-headstrong-1st-girl-vibes has always been strong one. I was a middle kid for a long time. 2.5 years after Z, and 3.5 years before B. Senior : Freshman to Senior : Freshman for the 3 of us in school.

I was in Mr. DeBoer’s 5th grade class, a month shy of 11 when Em was born in November of ’98. I remember laying next to B in the back room of Nana & Papa’s old house; we knew Mom was in labor, but you know, bedtime rules at Nana’s house wait for no baby. We were almost asleep when Nana came in and told us – Mom had had a girl.

What a girl. What a baby. Happy cheeks. Happy laugh. Happy smiles. We used to sneak in to wake her up from her naps because she was so cute (and also you were her favorite if you took her out of the crib). Good gawd, she was popular with my friends. Everyone loved her – she made my teen season easier with her easy smile – and so many of my friends’ siblings were past their baby years.

My college season in Oklahoma was punctuated with visits home – seeing the leaps in her experience, her height, her basketball skills – and the gut-wrenching difficult goodbyes, every time. She’d weep, clutching my neck and sob out, “Can’t you just go to Whatcom (Community College)? You make such good sandwiches; can’t you just work at Subway?”

1 – 1000% true. A direct quote. And also 2 – yeah – I do rock a great sandwich. Subway could never.

But the HEARTSTRINGS whew. I’ve spent my adult life leaving and re-leaving and those were some of the first leavings and they still make my emotions well up.

After college I still came home about twice a year; she was in her teen phase and sports, school, all of it. I did 2 years in Korea, moved to Chicago – she finished high school and started at GCU in Phoenix. Being with her were always some of the best moments – driving to get sandwiches, watch her games, her practices, belting out Ke$ha.

And yet. Despite me not living with her for over half her life…what a kid. What a woman. What a nurse.

I don’t need to live close to know to see the kind of woman she’s become. I see her influence in the community she’s knit around her. The Instagram comments, the adventures, the brilliant sound of her laugh among friends.

I don’t need to see her in a hospital to know how she touches every life she meets – body, mind and spirit. There’s a reason her fellow nursing students in her cohort gave her the Florence Nightingale Award.

I don’t need to live with her to know she’s the kind of person who asks if you want anything when she runs to town. She’ll tell you when there’s food in your teeth, too. I KNOW. Put that on your resume under ‘special skills,’ Em.

A coffee junkie, someone who doesn’t have a piece of clothing that looks bad on her (I’m serious, I’ve seen her wear a huge random Old Navy t-shirt of our Dad’s and it WORKS?! SOMEHOW?! It should be a crime), can double-french braid her own hair, can appreciate the hits of Cascada (truly great), a study NUT (you should see her notebooks), and now – a nurse. Still-to-take-the-NCLEX-but-still!

As B pinned Em, now the third nurse in the family (B and our sister-in-law Laura being 1 & 2), I stood there, hot as hell, in my thrifted jumpsuit, hiding my shiny tears behind my fancy camera and clicked away. Documenting this grown-ass adult shining. Proud. Happy.

I changed this person’s diapers (Sorry, not sorry, Em).

And now she’s holding a diploma with a her grad cap.

Spending the next few days eating her dust as we hiked (I plod, she billy goats), spending ~15 hours in a car, shouting ALAN ALAN down the Narrows with her and B – a gift. A gift to be friends with this fellow adult. To take our first spin class together. To belt One Direction. To tetris her belongings into a storage unit before she moves into her first apartment.

She’s got her human side, yeah, I promise. But today’s post is for celebrating her – she can have a pass – and maybe I’ll make her a sandwich. If she’s good.

2 Branches Off the Old Tree

My whole life I’ve been told I look like my Dad. And y’all I do. From our freckles to our face shape to our 70/30% red/brown curly hair to our smiles – there’s no hospital mixup here. But I see him under my SPF 70-prone skin too in my hands, my heart and my voice. 

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If my mom is who I text flower photos to then my Dad is who I reach out to with the ‘handsy’ things. The ‘I think I have to take apart my Kitchenaid mixer and replace the grease after 20+ years’ and he sends back a Youtube video. He’s the one I call when my toilet tank is making sounds/has stopped making the RIGHT sounds. Trying to choose the right IKEA toolkit for my apartment. Who sends me Amazon links to the right type of superglue to keep my chair bolts together. If you can put hands on it and fiddle with it, that’s Dad turf. He can probably be found in Carharrt overalls, splotched with evidence of fixes past, pulling apart and putting things back together, safety glasses and a t-shirt that probably has a hole in it catching on a piece of a project somewhere.  

He’s the one I try to make laugh; getting his laugh is a currency that throws all your other laughter dollars forgotten on the floor. The two of us will go toe-to-toe on puns as everyone else in the family waits, head in palm, for us to finish trying to outdo each other. Usually at the dinner table. While everyone is just waiting for us to pray so they can eat. Our humor comes from the same tree trunk but our branches do eventually diverge. We conspiratorially cackled sharing Far Side books back and forth. He’s legendary for long, rambling 5-minute jokes and I have NO PATIENCE to get to that punchline. I can fall into fits at an episode of The Office and he huffs, “I just don’t get this.” 

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My  did a tour in the Navy after high school and I remember touching the coins from Hong Kong with wide eyes listening to heightened yarns of the guys he served with. We would all squeeze into bed as he told us long, detail-filled stories of “Spunky the Monkey” as we screamed with laughter, usually involving our plucky hero and bodily functions. I fell in love with books and my Dad was the one to tell me, gently, in high school “Make sure you have your own adventures too, ok?” On the morning of my 18th birthday I remember the local Navy recruiter calling my house – when I told him that night he laughed saying “They don’t miss a minute!” He once told me after college that I was the only kid of his he could have seen surviving and thriving in the military. I can’t tell you how that comment has strangely sustained me, making me feel powerful and capable because my Dad saw me as powerful and capable. 

My Dad is mischievous as ANYONE I HAVE EVER HEARD. I know there are pranks my Dad and pals pulled in high school he still can’t talk about, apparently. IT HAS BEEN ALMOST 40 YEARS. And these are just some of the ones I do know about: the legendary Ferndale High School food fight that he started while wearing a gorilla costume to stay incognito?! A battle of the bands where he was in a white suit and used ketchup packets to look like he was bleeding?! A reputation that apparently made my grandma nervous when people heard her daughter was dating him?! And it didn’t stop there: to this day anytime my Dad has any scratch/bruise/scuff and you ask him how he got it the answer will be (say it with me, siblings): “Oh, that? Your mom bit me.” 

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But my Dad doesn’t sacrifice a soft heart for all those tough, funny things. He’s a loving husband married to my mom 35+ years. He’s a Dad genuinely interested in our worlds. He’s a devoted grandpa to 3 happy little nuggets.

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When my parents left me at ORU for my freshman year…that was the first time I saw my Dad cry. I’d seen his eyes ‘glisten’ before, but this was monumental. I remember I was whole-body sobbing, shaking, standing on the bridge between chapel and the parking lot. That’s normal, right? For me to cry, visualizing living 2,152 miles from home. But it wasn’t just me. My mom was crying too. And so was this jokester, prankster, fix-anything-with-moving-pieces tough man. Which made me cry harder because anything that can break that kind of guy is worth sobbing about. It wasn’t until later that I realized as scared and sad and nervous but hopeful as I was…maybe he was too. He was losing (for awhile) the pun pal. The branch buddy. Someone who tried so hard to understand his machines but didn’t speak the language. Someone who wanted to hear all his stories. Someone who also appreciated a hearty Carharrt beanie and reading adventure stories and watching Young Frankenstein. 

It’s been almost 14 years since that sweltering, August day in Tulsa and I haven’t lived at home since. I’d come home for breaks and summers, and I still find myself boomeranging back to the nest 2-3 times a year. I’m living my adventures and stories like he told me, but there’s always someone I want to share them with. The weird bits of the stories and people I’ve met on the way. To show Morroccan and Korean and Thai coins to; to ping pong puns with, to quote Marty Feldman with, to try and fix some machinery with, to shoot targets with, to lovingly debate and discuss with. Sometimes, a branch misses another branch just knowing who they are in a way no one else does. 

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I am lucky, I am loved, I am blessed with this Dad who knows and adores me. And I am so excited to share him with someone else someday. To watch their eyes light up hearing about a work prank that apparently involved a fake spider in a paper cup that made a grown man cry. 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You’re all these things and more, every day. But today I finally kept typing through the tears to say all of it. I love you. 

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