There was a season when my oldest sister Cyndi and I didn’t get along. It lasted, oh, about seventeen years, from when I was around twelve and she was fifteen, until I was twenty-nine. We tried hard sometimes, but it just didn’t work. When we were teenagers, we both had issues and took them out on each other. It was sometimes brutal and violent, and often cruel. Then in our twenties, the tension when we were together too long escalated and ended with a lot of stress and disappointment. She came to visit me in both Virginia and Chicago where I lived in post-college days, and though the visits always started fine, by the time she left, the separation was a needed reprieve.
Then when I was twenty-nine, suddenly some kind of miracle happened.
Jason and I had moved back to Colorado and we were undergoing more infertility treatments. Because of work, Jason wasn’t always available to take me to appointments when I needed a driver. So Cyndi did. I remember sitting with her in a waiting room realizing how serene it all was. It was working! Something had suddenly and deeply changed.
Once I got pregnant, she was one of the very first people we told. She knew our secrets about things. When we learned via ultrasound that there were four babies, and then once they were born, she was on the top of the short list of who to call.
One day when I was pregnant, she and I were talking about the logistics of my plans for taking care of the kids once they came home from the hospital. She mentioned something about her Leave of Absence from work. Whoa. Wait. What was she talking about?
“Of course I’m taking a leave. To help with the babies,” she said, quite matter of fact. “I’m coming at night to take care of them.” It was the first I’d heard of it but it was fait accompli. She would be running the graveyard shift.
After all four babies came home from the hospital, she started coming to our tiny apartment every evening, Sunday through Thursday, by 10:00 p.m. We’d all get the final feedings of the day wrapped up and the kids into their cribs, then Jason and I would go to bed. While the six of us slept, Cyndi stayed up and entertained herself on the computer or with other things like cross stitching. That way, Jason could get an entire night’s sleep so he could go to work relatively coherent in the morning. Then when just one baby stirred or fussed, Cyndi was on it. She kept everyone pacified until it was bottle time. In the beginning weeks, we roused them all together—or we’d be feeding babies all night long. They needed to stay on the same schedule. So about every three hours, we fed and changed them, and did whatever was needed to get them all back to sleep again. Then I’d go back to bed for a couple of hours while Cyndi held down the fort.
When the kids were two, they started going over to “Neenee’s” house once a week. (When she was learning to talk, she pronounced her own name Neenee so that became her nickname and it’s what the kids have always called her.) Many, many weekend days they spent at her house. Once they were preschoolers, they’d all go on outings to the neighborhood Walgreens and pick out lunch food or toys, or just went on a mailbox adventure to retrieve her mail. They took nature hikes around her townhouse complex and the open space nearby. They learned to love chocolate milk at Neenee’s and perfected their grilled cheese sandwich preferences (grilled peanut butter for Spencer). They blew bubbles and played “store,” they enjoyed her “magic” fireplace, they spent hours in her basement working on art projects.
Neenee was there for the kids from their beginning, sitting in the waiting room and then in the hospital, holding vigil with us as we did what was necessary to get them born. Then she kept our nighttime household running when it could have been a lot more chaotic and exhausting. She helped raise them, nurturing and loving them while giving Jason and me many needed breaks. She impacted our lives more than we can ever know. But this we do know: our quadruplets are Neenee’s kids too!
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