"And talking about our kind of shoes have you seen this one?"
We were in the shoe section of TJ Maxx, and the black flats with the thick ankle strap were, indeed, very much "our kind of shoes." I had never heard my sister-in-law say anything like that before and I was pretty delighted to hear it. "We have similar taste in shoes" the off-hand remark meant, we have something in common.
It was this sentence from M, my third (in order of becoming part of the family) sister-in-law on my husband's side (his youngest brother "K4"'s wife) that prompted me to think about them: the sisters I never had!
I have only one brother, but I have four sisters-in-law!
I've known my brother's wife, P, the longest (she was six years old when we moved to São Paulo in the mid-eighties), but sadly I never got to spent much time with her -- what with them living in China, then New Zealand, traveling the world, and never visiting! Moreover, when I left Brazil, she and my brother had been together only for a few years and they broke up a few times before deciding to get married. Her brother used to be our best friend (actually, I used to joke that he was more like my "twin," because we have so may things in common), P & I both play(ed) the flute (we played a few duets at a wedding once) and we have curly hair. I think that's about it! ;-)
However, in the past 23 years, since I "acquired" my first sister-in-law on my husband's side, I've gotten to spend time, get to know better, and to love my new sisters! That's why when I heard the sentence above (not a precise translation because it was said in Portuguese), I knew I had to write this post.
K2 started dating D only a year after K & I became a couple (24th anniversary of that was last week, on April 7th!). She's 5 years younger than me (and K2 is 4 years younger than K), but we interacted some while I was dating and more after I got married. D and K2 got engaged earlier just so that we were able to be at the engagement party before we traveled to the U.S. back in 1996. Their wedding was the reason for our first trip back to Brazil in December 1997 (paid by our parents, since we really couldn't afford it, having just started our graduate programs).
D & I have the most it in common as far as upbringing is concerned. She was born in the same town as my mom in Southern Brazil. In fact, her dad is a distant relative of my mom, born and raised on the same small village as my grandfather. In addition to our common Southern Brazil upbringing we share a passion for cooking. We can spend hours in the kitchen and start and/or finish each other's dishes or meals seamlessly!
In spite of the age difference, we watched some of the same TV programs and listened to similar music growing up, so we have these things in common, and one of my childhood friends is her second cousin. We also spent the most time together because K2 and D moved to the U.S. back in 2001 and we lived only 2-3 hours away from each other for ten years so our boys (her oldest and my youngest) grew up together. So we know each other pretty well and for birthdays or holidays she's given me many lovely pieces of clothing that people always compliment me on.
I can't believe they're gone "forever" (I doubt we'll ever live in close proximity again, but "never say never," right?) and I haven't talked to her at all since they moved to Egypt (and right now they're spending a few weeks in Thailand at a Mission Institute). :-(
I can't believe her sons are going to have the childhood that I thought I was going to have (missionary kid, third-culture-kid, traveling the world) and I know that their unique and amazing experiences will make them drift apart from my sons... Sigh... that's life!
"Rene" is the youngest of my sisters-in-law, 11 (or 10, I might be wrong in this one) years minus precisely a week younger than me. We met soon after she and K3 started dating when we visited D & K2 in Texas, while K4 was living there for a while and K3 was living with us in Massachusetts (for about two years all four brothers lived in the U.S.!). She was visiting MA when Kelvin was born, so she got to meet him right away with K3. (maybe that's also one of the reasons why she's Kelvin's favorite aunt -- the first one he met? ;-) Two years later, I almost missed her beautiful wedding because my youngest son was born only a week before the big day, but I managed to fly with a six-day-old and made it! It was such a thrill! (and a surprise to everyone, apart from K, obviously)
As the only American, I hope she feels included and an integral part of the in the family. In any case, we all joke that her son is the "most Brazilian" of all the grandkids and she was the lucky one to have the ONLY GIRL out of eight grandkids (the eighth one, and 7th boy, is due this summer). I totally think that she is (and would be) the best mom to a girl of all four of us, though! She's also the most athletic (having run several marathons) and the healthiest (well, not all of the time! ;-) person in the family.
In addition to loving popcorn and cats, we have lots more in common because both our husbands (K & K3) studied and taught the same science and she and I studied language and literature (she earned a master's degree a while back). She is the only person in the family I can really talk to about my work and academic matters. She even read parts of my dissertation! I wish that over the years we'd have more time to talk about our passions for literature and teaching, but I'm thrilled that she has a (sporadic) blog and reads mine!! So she probably she knows even more about me (or more in depth at least) than D. All the writing I do and her always cheerful comments are equivalent to lots conversations, that's for sure! ;-) And I'm a huge fan of her writing and her adventures (she's so much more hard core than me!) chronicled in her blog and sometimes, like whirlwind day-trips [?!!] to Japan or Hong-Kong, in facebook. Thanks for always being there for me, 'sis!
And all that brings me back to M, where I started. M, married to the "baby" of the family, K4 who is, comically, the tallest of the four brothers,* is "a character." Extremely opinionated, pretty, sometimes demanding, in turns energetic and the person who sleeps the most in the family. She speaks her mind so freely that I sometimes joke, tongue-in-cheek (this is a Brazilian saying that may not sound right in English) that if you have her as a friend or in the family you don't need any enemies. :-)
* (and unarguably the thinnest, at least until now!)
She and I grew up in the same state and she knows all my family members who live in Curitiba, Paraná very well. I was first introduced to her when visiting Brazil back when Kelvin was little, in 2003-04 and always enjoyed how well she interacted with her nephews (she has always loved babies and little kids).
She was a great professional and had a fantastic job in Brazil which she loved -- she was sales rep for big pharma companies, most recently Pfizer. She and K4 were crazy to splurge on a HUGE wedding all paid by themselves with no help from families (the tradition in Brazil is that the bride's family pays for the wedding). [today she says she would have used the money as the down payment on an apartment!] In spite of doing so well in Brazil, in 2009 they decided to immigrate to Montreal, Canada (mostly because it's impossible to immigrate to the U.S.!), not exactly what M wanted to do with her life, but now she enjoys being an immigrant. Their move was great for us because now we could (and can!) see and visit them several times a year!
The visits are short, so we don't interact enough, but M always likes to chat on skype (we do that with Rene & K3 once in a while too), especially when she needs any kind of advice on shopping or other things. She loves to share what she's doing around the house, especially for the new baby's and nephew N's bedrooms. Amazingly I was able to be there to photograph the birth of their son N! And then my sons and I could also be there for N's first birthday party. I probably won't be there for the next baby's birth, but we'll go meet him in August.
M & I love the color green, but apart from that (and our home state/town), we don't have much in common, that's why her unexpected comment about the shoes struck a chord with me. I'm no expert in social interactions, but I feel that identifying with people is one of the most basic steps to building a relationship. K & I couldn't stop talking the day we met because we had a nearly endless number of interests and experiences in common that we wanted to share and we're still talking that way 24 years later.
I'm glad that slowly, but surely, I'm building relationships with my "sisters" and I hope that in spite of the distance, we can continue to interact and become closer. Acknowledging the things we have in common, like shoes, is a good start! :-)