Lucky for us, Carrie did marry Jeff because almost exactly three years later, in an Army hospital in Fort Polk, Louisiana, she gave birth to my niece Whitney. And three minutes later, to my niece Tegan. As 12-year-old seventh graders in a tiny K-8 school in southern Wisconsin, Katy and I were called to the principal's office, where we took a phone call from our mother. "Did ya'll want nieces are nephews?" We of course didn't care - we were just excited. "Two girls," she said, "Whitney and Tegan."
We were so excited - thrilled, even - to be Aunts at 12. One week later the whole family made the drive from Wisconsin to Louisiana to meet the newest additions. They were a bit premature, Tegan had jaundice and spent the first days of her life on this earth in an incubator. They were beautiful, perfect girls. They were miraculous. They were dwarfed in the arms of my big brother (I wish I could have found a picture). During those few short days of that first visit, we could already see their personalities. Tegan, the snuggler who slept like death every time she slept (and still does). And Whitney, who Carrie called Baby Dozer because of her tendency to bulldoze the sleeping Tegan into a corner of the crib so she could spread out. When they were still very little, they moved closer to the rest of the family - to us - and have lived close for the rest of their lives. I had no idea how my life would be changed from then on. I've heard people talk about the love they feel for their own children and, not having my own children, I can't say what that is like. I do know that though I was only 12 when they were born, I felt a love for them that I couldn't even define. And to this day, that hasn't changed. Now, as then, I love these girls in a way that I never could have expected and cannot articulate.
Through the years, I have been amazed to watch them grow and change and I have been blessed and honored to be a part of their lives. Tegan, who from the time she could walk, pirouetted and pranced in front of every mirror, window, shiny or reflective surface. Tegan who was nearly constantly begging Katy for a "makeover". Who liked nothing more than dressing up in a perfect fancy dress, that she more than occasionally pulled up over her head. (Luckily, she has out grown this. For the most part.) Who used to scrunch up her nose snort and huff and spread out her arms as if to fly. (We still regularly mock her for this.)
Whitney, who was known to hide in corners and eat garlic salt straight from the shaker, who fell in love with a onesie at some point early on and continued to wear it until it had to be confiscated for fear it would permanently cut off her circulation. The onesie was her second favorite outfit, her first favorite being a diaper and a play gun belt, that she wore religiously while pretending to be a cop and while "apprehending the perpetrator in the boiler room." Who, troll-like, frequently carried a brown paper back around full of found treasures - pennies, a sock, Legos, a napkin, a ball of lint, a Matchbox car.Tegan, with her flare for the dramatic (note the pose) and Whitney, the practical, straightforward one. (Seen here at Santa's Land.)
Nearly 18 years later, they have grown up to be two amazing, beautiful young women. Each funny and frustrating and wonderful in their own right. I wish I could tell you - I wish I could tell them! - how much I love them. Simultaneously, somehow, I love them as if they were my own children and I love them like the little sisters I never had and I love them like long-time, dear, beloved friends.
St. Jude a run for his "patron saint desperate cases and lost causes" title. Who wants everyone to think she is tough and cool, but who holds my mother's puppy and cuddles her and calls her her "baaaaabbbbyyyyy" and kisses her on her little dog mouth.
Over the last 17 and a half years, I've gained more nieces and some nephews - who I love dearly and wouldn't trade for anything - and yet these two will always hold a special place in my heart. These girls have made me cry more times than I care to remember, have been in my prayers so often only the Lord knows (thankfully He knows) and who have made me laugh more times than I can count. Last Friday night they graduated from high school. I am shocked and appalled at this - but also anxious and thrilled for them . . . and filled with excitement and trepidation on their behalf for all the things I know lay ahead of them. And for all the things I cannot even fathom lay ahead of them.
Congratulations, Whitney and Tegan! I love you and I am so proud of you for all you have done so far and so excited to see what you will accomplish from this day forward. And so blessed to call you my nieces - and my friends!
"My sister and I are twins, and you know how subtle are the links which bind two souls which are so closely allied." - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle