by Jennifer on November 12, 2008

My kids stared at the screen. They picked up their sandwiches and forgot to take a bite. They took a bite and forgot to chew. Worried looks froze on their faces. Their aunt sat between them on the sofa, and offered a hand to cover their eyes through the scary parts (they peeked through her fingers, and their own).

Twenty-one years haven’t changed the fact thatROUSes are pretty badass.

We were, of course, watching The Princess Bride. It was the first time for my kids, and they loved it. And I admit it, I had a few hopes pinned on that. At the end, Girl declared that it was her favorite movie. (Whether she will think so tomorrow is hard to say, but it was sweet declaration all the same.)

It was good to see what I saw in my living room this afternoon. My sister and her niece and nephew, cuddled together on the sofa watching a movie that both of us – the sisters – have loved for far longer than my children have been alive.

I fall into a different cadence when I’m around my family. I’m no longer just a mother in my house – I become a sister, or a daughter, too. And I admit there are times that I wonder what they think about my skills as a parent. I’m old enough that it shouldn’t matter, but I’d be lying if I claimed not to care how I’m perceived. At times, a shadow falls across the back of my mind, where self-judgment lives. (Lives and breathes fire, some days. The truth is, I’m harder on myself than anyone. Still working on that.)

That said, I’m very much at ease with my sister here, and happy to share the same space again. I forget sometimes how long we’ve had each other’s backs – forty years is no small thing. There’s a shorthand in that comfort, in knowing each other’s stories.

This afternoon, I thought back 21 years to when The Princess Bride came out (I’m sure I didn’t see it until at least a year or two later, on video). Our lives were so different then. In 1987, I graduated from high school and left home for college in another state. Ducky had been gone from home for four years by then. The situation back at home was a mess.

We were versions of ourselves that were both simpler and more complicated. Unformed in some ways, and far beyond our years in others. We were not most of the things we are now. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined that one day we would end up with the lives we have. I couldn’t have known that the possibility of these two beautiful children lay waiting inside me.

I started thinking about the labels all of us use to describe ourselves – mother, writer, doctor, librarian, teacher, father, wife, husband, sister, brother, friend, daughter, caretaker.

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker.

We are complicated creatures. Life can feel like a house of mirrors sometimes, showing us many versions of ourselves. We can spend years trying to find the one reflection that feels right, that can make us say, “Yes, that’s who I am.”

There are times when we need more than anything to stand in front of that one shiny mirror, to see the best part of ourselves. It’s a great feeling. But who can spend all their time like that? Jobs or children or a mortgage or parents often need our attention and care first – stronger, immediate needs, and so we take charge of those things, as we should.

We step into the action of our lives and are in turns the swordsman, the thinker, the giant. The long-lost love or the one in need of rescue. A princess. The farm boy. The miracle worker.

We become many things, open ourselves wide so that the people we care about can find what they need to see in us, the image of us that they expect to be true so that life makes sense to them, too.

There’s no getting around that, if we want to live among the people we care about.  We need things from each other, and we need to feel like we have something to offer. It’s just the way of things, the barter, the reward.

At the end of the movie when the grandfather says “As you wish,” my daughter (she was snuggled in next to me by then) gasped and then let out a soft “Awww…” Over on the sofa, my son sat next to my sister, as comfortable with her as if no time had passed since he saw her last.

And everything in that room, in that moment, the meld of past into present, was exactly as I wished.


There were some funny things about the day. If you click here, my sister will tell you the one that really made us laugh.

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