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June 26, 2007

She's leaving, on a jet plane...

My sister left yesterday. Mirna didn't just leave on a trip -- she left Chicago for good, after finishing up her residencies. She'll be starting a fellowship at a great hospital in New York, and for the most part, I'm happy for her. But I'm also sad.

This would maybe be a surprise to people who knew us ten years ago. Mirna and I didn't always get along so well. We're five years apart in age, and by the time she started high school, I was in college, bringing disgrace on the family and ruining their good name -- that was what my traditional immigrant parents called it, anyway. I would have called it dating. Though admittedly, I went a lot farther than just holding hands over a romantic dinner. And I did it with white boys, which was a lot for my small town-raised Sri Lankan parents (who had had an arranged marriage themselves) to cope with.

I dated quite a few white boys, over time. And non-white boys. And then, later, there were a few girls. All of which was eventually trumped by my writing smutty stories and putting them out on the internet, back in the days (1991) when no one had even heard of the internet, making myself a scandal and a hissing. I think I've wandered a bit from my topic. The point is, the family did not approve. And my poor sisters bore the brunt of it, from my parents' clamping down on them so they didn't ruin themselves the way I had, to the mean-spirited gossip they had to hear in their close-knit ethnic community.

So Mirna and I, we didn't get along so well for a while there. After sufficient screaming fights with the family, I distanced myself for some years. Eventually, we all calmed down and got back in touch, but when Mirna told me that she'd be moving to Chicago, I really didn't know if we'd end up close or not. We're a lot closer after four years in the same city. We've leaned on each other for sisterly things -- helping cook for big parties, for example, because we're both a bit obsessive about throwing big, fancy dinner parties with too much food. (We got it from our mother.) There was also some shopping. How can you not bond over shopping?

And so at the end of her time here, I'm really sorry to see her go, just for the sake of our own relationship. It'll be harder to stay in close touch once she's busy with her new life in New York. But that's not why I'm writing this. Because you see, this is a mommy blog. And, as a new mom, I'm utterly panicked that she's leaving. When my mother had me, she was living in a small town in Sri Lanka. Surrounded by her eight siblings and a multitude of aunts and uncles and other relatives. If she ever had a problem with her baby, there was always a relative to turn to for advice, for help -- even just someone to hand the baby off to so she could walk away and clear her head. It sounds luxurious -- I can't imagine what that would be like, to raise a baby in such close-knit family circumstances. My parents live in Connecticut. My youngest sister lives in Philadelphia. Kevin's parents and sister live in San Jose. I do have an aunt in the Chicago suburbs, but I've seen her maybe three times in the last year. She's not living down the street, six blocks away, the way Mirna has been.

Kevin and I could move , in theory. But in practice, it's almost impossible. We're both academics, and the downside of the academic life is that you rarely have much say in where you end up living. We've been incredibly lucky to both get jobs in the same city. If we tried to add in more people's geographic constraints into the job hunt mix -- well, the results wouldn't be pretty. So effectively, we're stuck here. Luckily, we love Chicago. It's been a fabulous place to live as single adults, and as a couple. But as parents… I'm being silly, I know. After all, she's a busy doctor. Even if Mirna were staying in Chicago, it's not like she'd be able to hang out every day, baby-sit every few nights. This is a different age, a different time. I know that. But as long as she was living in Chicago, I knew she was there if I ever really needed her. I could walk those six blocks in the middle of the night and say, "Hey. Take your niece, right now, before I go crazy." And she would. Because if you're lucky enough to have a good relationship with your family, you can lean on them for totally unreasonable things. Yes, you can lean on friends too. But they have to be really good friends, and feel the same way about you that my relatives do about me -- that even when they don't like me, and don't approve of what I'm doing with my life, I'm still family, and when I need them, they'll be there.

It takes a village to raise a child, right?

I don't want my sister to leave Chicago. Heck, I want my other sister and her fiance to move here too -- and while we're at it, my parents, and Kevin's parents, and his sister and her husband. Even if we'd all drive each other a little crazy in close quarters, which I'm sure we would, now that I'm a parent, I want my village right here with me. I've got a lot of child-raising left to do.

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