Twenty-One Years a Sister

Six years ago today, my sister turned fifteen.  Hispanic girls are treated to elaborate pageantry on their fifteenth birthdays, complete with the appointment of a “court” with ritualized dancing and proclamations of admiration and pride from friends and family.  At least one parent usually gives a long speech highlighting their children’s accomplishments and any unusual fortunes that have visited the family in the past few years.  More than just a birthday party, the event is a time for extended circles of blood and water to grow tighter and better-informed about each other, and for holding together a community that increasingly does not hold itself.

It isn’t standard for the birthday girl’s siblings to also deliver speeches, but I wrote something brief for her.  Expressions of affection in a household are…complicated…when one sibling is autistic and the other two aren’t, and I wanted to take this chance to share something warmer than I could bear to bring forth in ordinary times.

Six years later, she’s not in high school anymore and our relationship has grown accordingly, but the affection and wonderment at the person my sister has become are just the same.  There is one correction I need to make, though, to make this moment ring through the ages and to make it fit with the shape our relationship will now take.

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Twenty-One Years a Sister

Fishy Redemption

It is a bad idea to enter the aquakeeping hobby on a lark.  Not only is this a recipe for any of various easily-avoided mistakes that beginners make, but it encourages a cavalier attitude about one’s new pets.  It is easy to treat fish and other small-animal pets as easily replaced decorative accents rather than animals with their own needs, behaviors, and beautiful uniqueness, especially since relatively few fish respond well to attempts to physically interact with them.

I started on the path to fishkeeping as a precocious child, and my parents and other adult models were not themselves hobbyists.  What I learned about the best practices for populating and maintaining an aquarium, I learned by reading every fish book I could find…and by trial and error.

There were a lot of errors.

Every fish that perished prematurely under my care stung my precocious heart.  I felt affection for every individual fish, even if I couldn’t tell them apart or if I replaced them quickly.  For every one of them, seeing them sicken and die as a result of something I did felt like a crime I was committing not just against them, but against their whole kind.  This idea stuck in my mind, each failed effort seeming like an un-redressed wrong as well as an unsolved problem.  I convinced myself over the years that I could assuage my conscience by revisiting each species and giving it, with that later effort, a home in which it could thrive.  There is no possibility of effecting restitution for the fish I killed long ago with my overzealous and poorly-informed attempts, but I can still do right by others.  Even if that reasoning is decidedly irrational, these stories may spare other aquakeepers from making the same mistakes and other fish from these often-gruesome fates.

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Fishy Redemption

Leavanny Tall Behind

I have no patience for people who dismiss the appeal of “childish” things.  I’m overwhelmingly thrilled with how the past two decades have been the decades of cartoons for the older set, of “nerdy” concepts like superheroes and space operas becoming massive cultural phenomena with mainstream appeal, and whole hobbies growing with their aficionados rather than expecting them to leave them behind on their way to fantasy football or whatever it is that boring people do.  One of the things I will never stop being happy about is how, through all the years of pushing me as hard as they could into all the wrong molds, I never managed to lose that spark of joy that I call out of LEGOs and Transformers and model dinosaurs and anatomically-correct plastic spiders and the adorable-cockfighting-for-children simulator that is Pokémon.

I’m glad in general, because the only joy I have ever experienced that isn’t that kind of joy is the joy of romantic love, and because hanging on to that exuberance has made me a better teacher, a better partner, and a better person, and someday, it might make me a better parent.  I’m glad because if they had somehow beaten out of me that ability to swell with happiness when surrounded by tropical fish or gundam model kits or stuffed toy lizards, I am not convinced that I would have survived my adolescence.  I have been sustained by the sheer simplicity of that “childish” joy, able to set aside the continuous terror of a world not made for people like me because the worlds those things inhabit are neat and tidy and written out in reams, because they accept my engrossing obsession without a second thought, because I can touch and handle and feel them (except the fish…) and complete my sense of their being.

I’m alone in the office writing this, my colleagues either attending a presentation or out for the day, choking back tears, because I know another reason why this specific joy means so much to me.

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Leavanny Tall Behind