A few weeks ago, Amy and I sat in our basement, as she showed me a tin box with a picture of an old-fashioned teddy bear on the front. It was filled with old photos. We sifted through them, sharing stories about each one.
“This is one of my favorites,” Amy said, handing me a photo of the two of us from the morning after her 16th birthday.
It was a candid image of me at age 6, wearing long-sleeved pink pajamas and sporting a severe case of bedhead. It showed me jumping on Amy after darting downstairs to wake her teenage friends up after her sleepover. It felt like just yesterday that I couldn’t wait to be 16 like Amy.
The next photo we grabbed was one of me and my aunt Kelly, who is Amy’s older sister by one year. I was probably only 2 years old when it was taken, and I had fallen asleep belly-down on top of Kelly, on a couch I can barely remember now.
Most people have aunts who are a lot older than them, but I guess I’m luckier than most.
We kept looking through photos, commenting on things like how our basement looks entirely different now and the retro, Lizzie McGuire-like hairstyles her friends were wearing to their high school dances. Each time I saw a picture featuring one of my aunts’ teenage faces, I could remember how much I adored them while I was growing up.
The more I looked at these family photos, the more I realized I wanted to thank them for all they’ve done for me, especially when we all lived under the same roof.
I’m thankful for the hand-me-down ‘90s board games that my middle-school friends always thought were so cool.
I’m thankful for the winters when my aunts would pull me around in our sled after it snowed — and that they ran back to get me that time after they realized I’d fallen off a few yards behind them.
I wanted to thank 11-year-old Kelly for willingly giving me sink baths as a baby and teaching me lots of bad words once I started talking. Kelly showed me what it’s like to be caring but also comedic.
I wanted to thank 14-year-old Amy for her concern in the page of her diary that reads, “Dear God, I’m so sorry I gave Jayna a puff of my inhaler. Please don’t let her die! I love her so much.” And for always begging my mom to let me off timeout — even when I was in the middle of a serious tantrum. Amy taught me empathy.
A lot has changed since the old photos were taken. Kelly lives in the suburbs with my uncle and my adorable baby cousin now. And Amy still lives with me, but not for long, because she’s moving to Florida this summer.
But in 10 or even 20 years from now, when there are way more old photos to look back on, I know I’ll still have the same bond with my aunts.
I was the wallflower during their high school drama, tragic teenage heartbreaks and their first jobs. I was around for the many sick or hurt animals Kelly nursed back to health and the kids Amy babysat.
Because of their example, I learned how our family shows support, compassion, understanding and patience.
I thought my days as an only child ended when I was almost 8 and my little brother Tommy was born. But now, after exploring Amy’s picture box and reflecting on the two young girls who taught me so much, I don’t think I ever really experienced life as an only child. I’ve always had Amy and Kelly as big sisters.
Both of my aunts are beautiful inside and out. Florida will be lucky to have Amy, captivating people with her outgoing, vivacious personality. And Carlos and little Isabella are so very lucky to have Kelly around as a wife and mom, with her thoughtfulness and playfulness.
But I’ll always know that I was lucky to have them first.