Loving Lisa

I didn’t understand my big sister Lisa’s magic when we were little. She just confused me. Here’s photo evidence. It was Lisa’s fifth birthday celebration, and I was three – not quite four years old:

black and white photo of two young girls with birthday cake
Vicki and Lisa

How would you describe the look I’m giving Lisa? Cold stare? Quizzical? Curious? I think it was all of those. I didn’t know enough to censor my gaze. Lisa was taller, older and I expected her to embody show me the ropes, please, traits. I expected her to be my guide and trailblazer. Maybe she could teach me a thing or two about managing my toddler tantrums and avoiding mom’s wrath? I expected Lisa to show me how to finagle more candy or cake or negotiate a later bedtime. Lisa did none of those things and that year when her birthday rolled around, I began discovering secrets. Sweet Lisa’s secrets.

Although older, Lisa couldn’t run with me or play on the swings for very long. She stumbled and apologized a lot and was afraid of falling. I didn’t know she was blind in one eye. I didn’t know her left leg was shorter than her right. I didn’t know she was a miracle – born at six months old – severely brain damaged and oxygen deprived – but she survived. I expected her to be my playmate. Ready, willing AND able.

That summer my curiosity escalated when I demanded to know “What’s wrong with Lisa!” as our mom stood at the kitchen sink. Lisa and I were at the table, pawing through our treasure – a stash of donated books from a soon-to-be-closing one room schoolhouse down the road. I was an almost-reader and I expected Lisa would be an absolute reader – maybe reading to me?

When I looked at her across the yellow tabletop, sticky with grape Kool-Aid residue, Lisa was holding her books upside down. UPSIDE DOWN. If there were pictures, she knew to flip things around, but as I crept behind her, I didn’t understand why she was “reading” up-ended books.

As our mom turned from a sink full of suds, she answered my question, angrily:Lisa’s different and special. You need to be nice.” It took me two more years to fully understand the trauma of Lisa’s birth – pieced together, one nugget of hushed and whispered intel at a time as I eavesdropped and snooped on grown up conversations.

Growing up with Lisa taught me how to care. To look at differences with a so what attitude. For all of the things Lisa couldn’t do well, she had big sister magic of her own. Lisa – still – has the most accurate, savant memory of anyone I know. Her recall is amazing – details from decades ago about specific celebrations, events, classic tv programs or everyday dinners.

Most conversations with Lisa start with, “Vicki, do you remember the day we….” and she’ll summarize, in exquisite detail, a meal or a moment. A conversation long forgotten. I love that about her.

More importantly, Lisa, despite her disabilities and the mounting reality of aging, is thoughtful, kind, and gracious. Always asking what she can do for someone else.

Caring for and learning from one another is everything. Notions of “ability” and “disability”? Lisa taught me to see how fluid and beautiful life without labels can be. She still isn’t much of a reader but her knack for seeing the good is her superpower.

Life lessons from Lisa.

-Vicki

Brownie Batter Insights 😊

Carl Jung
Carl Jung

My all-time favorite quote about introspection comes from Carl Jung:

“Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living.  Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.”

This is how I feel as an extroverted introvert – otherwise known as an ‘ambivert’ the personality type that rides the middle lane.

I think my personality is a by-product of moving ten times in twelve years as I grew up.  Forever the ‘new girl’ I needed to survey the social nuances – quickly – in order to make friends and connect.  That’s a tall order at any point in life, but when you’re an unsure, lanky, awkward young dork?  Tricky – so I built the skill of fast-friend making.  How?  Ask questions and be prepared to pivot, as needed.  Morph, baby.  And listen, listen, listen.

I suspect those skills framed my future career nicely – both in higher education as a professor and Dean and as a counselor/therapist in my own practice.  I could be extraordinarily extraverted, when needed.  No problem.  Got it.  BUT – I learned quickly that a recovery period after a long day of leading, listening, supporting – even when I loved doing it – was essential.

What else did I learn in the process?  Despite rampant and easily-applied labels, understanding personality types is complicated.  Nuanced.  Personality is not binary. We’re fluid, malleable and flexible and can present aspects of our true selves across the continuum of ‘extraversion vs. introversion’.

How did I manage as a card-carrying introvert in a mostly extraverted work world?  Just fine.  My only issue was remembering to tune into the need to refuel.  I often joked (then and now) that I need to ‘reload my words’ when I’m tapped out.  Give me five or ten, family, friends and I’ll be right back with you.  Right now, I’m fresh out of words.

There are a gazillion different tests – some shady, some reliable – if you want to delve into whether you’re more extraverted or introverted.  I think it’s helpful info, but it probably won’t tell you much that you don’t already know.  Is one type better than another?  No, of course not, despite this cheeky article lauding the merits of introversion. 

I still see myself as an ambivert because of my people-pleasing tendencies and high empathy. Consistently, my thought process is this:  What do YOU need me to be?  Let’s go with that.  And that’s how I live my life, unapologetically, but with awareness of the self-imposed fatigue.

Nasty fatigue.  It’s my nemesis more than anything else.  This past weekend provided a pointed reminder.  Sweet sister Lisa tested me during her visit over the weekend (check out this post from a few weeks back for more detail about my lovable, disabled sister).

Lisa lives in a terrific, well-staffed group home with lady friends with similar disabilities.  Whenever possible, we love having Lisa with us over a weekend, especially if family festivities like a barbeque are on deck.  Such was the case over Labor Day.

In addition to packing too much for a short stay (a genetic problem in the family) Lisa delights in bringing juicy tidbits and gossipy fun facts about her housemates, along with whispered shade about staff, programs, services.  She’s disabled but she’s more emotionally intelligent and verbal than most folks of normal IQ.  😉 AND she loves recounting all of it to me. 

See where I’m going?  I love Lisa but after non-stop listening – and not the half-listening that involves just a nod of recognition – she’s looking to chat – I begin to lose steam.  Not wanting to be short tempered with her, I find things for us to do and that works for a while as a distraction. 

This past weekend as I was teetering toward snapping at her, I remembered how funny she can be if lighten up and play along.  She wasn’t the problem, I realized – it was me.  I had too much **other** on my mind and Lisa sensed it, thinking I was upset with her.  My introverted self needed refueling for the heavy (but fun) impending BBQ socialization and that, coupled with my preoccupation with cooking and prepping, ramped up Lisa’s non-stop storytelling. I made her nervous.

Oh golly.  It just took a few minutes of slowing down over a bowl of brownie batter (with two spoons) to prompt silly reminiscing about childhood cooking disasters.  There were plenty, typically swirled together with outrageous things our mom did.  The laugh track that was our childhood. 

As I ruminated about Lisa last night, my summation thought yielded just this:  Extraversion, introversion, ambivert – whatever.  I needed to send out a search party to find my funny and laughter brought the pieces back together.  It usually does. 

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for letting me share.

Xo,

Vicki ❤