“I just don’t know what to do!” I was crying frantically on the phone to my dear friend and sorority sister from college, Lia. Knowing exactly what to do, Lia just waited silently for me to continue. “How can I possibly attend this gala when there are no fancy shoes I can wear to go with the dress? I’m going to embarrass myself, my boss and Michael, all at the same time.” I had been invited by my boss, an entertainment lawyer, to join him with my boyfriend Michael to an event with featured guest, Gloria Estefan. Even before working for my employer, I was a big Gloria fan and thought it would be incredibly cool to possibly meet her that night. I had originally planned to wear a cool top and jeans but when I left the office the evening before the event, my boss mentioned that he was bringing his wife and daughters and reminded me to “dress nicely – it’s formal.”
Although I had a dress already, I had worn it only in the winter so the only shoes I had to go with it were black suede ankle boots. To me, to show up at the event wearing those ankle boots with my dress in the summertime would seem ridiculous. I felt myself sliding into a particular kind of pity party that always engulfs me around the topic of shoes that never fit my misshapen feet. The irony of the situation—I was much more stressed at my fashion faux pas than whether people would be focused on my deformed hands. And so, I called my trusted friend, Lia, and let it all out. After listening to me howl and whine for almost an hour, Lia finally interjected. “Listen cutie. I totally understand why you are upset.” Like me, Lia was as much if not more a lover of fashion. “But really, let’s put this into perspective. It wasn’t long ago that Gloria Estefan was in a serious bus crash. She almost died. She was nearly paralyzed. Believe me, at this party they’ll all be focused on her. No one is going to be looking at your suede boots. I say wear them with the dress. You’ll look stunning no matter what.” She paused, and then added, “And who knows, maybe you’ll start a summer boot trend!”
We spoke for awhile longer and as I hung up the phone, I thought about how grateful I was to have Lia. Although she had already been my sorority sister, in fact she was the sister I never had biologically. She had always been there from me since we met at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and this was not the first occasion that I had practically fallen apart and she was there, as always, to lift my spirits.
That night at the event, just as Lia had predicted, no one seemed to even notice what I was wearing—we all were just enamored with Gloria. As I sipped my glass of wine, all of a sudden it hit me. Today was Lia’s birthday and I had been so caught up in my emotions I had completely forgotten to even acknowledge it. Because cell phones were still a few years away, I couldn’t even rush to call her. When I finally did the following morning, apologizing profusely, all I got was, “Don’t be silly, cutie. The fact that you went to that event regardless of your shoe dilemma was like giving me a birthday gift. I felt so good after we spoke….that is all that matters. You are here for me every day, not just my birthday. Same goes for me.” When we hung up, all I could think was how grateful I was to have someone like Lia in my life that I could depend on. I knew I wouldn’t be who I was without her.
“Meg, your boys are so lucky to have you to guide them.” I cannot even quote who said that because it has been said so many times. The comment actually prompts me to think how our sons are there for one another.
On the day we learned that Charlie, like Ethan, would be born with ectrodactyly, I phoned my Dad with the news. I was mostly disappointed because I was hoping to replicate my own childhood, where none of my siblings shared my condition. I was convinced it led to some sense of normalcy in my life. “Meg, Ethan will be there for Charlie. In fact, they will always have one another. Think of all the benefit that will bring to them both.” Along those lines, recently I caught the tail end of a conversation Ethan was having with Charlie in his bedroom. “Charlie, I went through the same thing….” According to Ethan, dealing with a new kid that had seen their physical difference for the first time could be mainly summed up three ways.
(1) He/she will see your difference, and then be simply curious and go up to you and ask what happened.
(2) He/she will see your difference but then will act really awkward toward you, even nervous, and pretend it’s not there.
(3) He/she will see your difference, but they will soon move on and not make a big deal of it.
Ethan went on to describe that even if a kid’s first impression led them to fall into the #1 category, typically (and if they became friends in particular), they would transition smoothly to #3. Ethan added that even some of the kids in the #2 category often, over time could transition eventually #3 as well. Not everyone would, but that really didn’t matter, he advised. “Let’s face it Charlie, no one is friends with everyone anyway.” I could tell Charlie was not only listening to his older brother, he was absolutely absorbed in the discussion. And so, as if the words went from my Dad’s lips to G-d’s ears, from the moment Charlie arrived, Ethan went out of his way to show his brother the ropes.
But the comment also makes me think about my own life experience. Our boys are certainly supporting one another, and I them. But the reason I think we are all actually fortunate is not primarily because they have me to guide them. It is because we have been surrounded with incredible people throughout our lives, family or not, that have offered their love, strength and support.
Now that’s why we are all lucky.
After more than twenty years of friendship, Lia continues to guide and support me and is like a sister in every sense of the word. And just for the record, I have never forgotten her birthday again.