Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Cheryl

So today I am thinking about cousin Cheryl and wishing her a happy 26th birthday. As I said in my Facebook status update, oh to be 26 again ....

Cousin Cheryl isn't my cousin by blood; she belongs to The Dean's side of the family, so I inherited her when I came into the fold 18 years ago. And we'll all agree, I'm sure, that it wasn't always smooth-sailing and that our relationship wasn't always tranquil. Or civil. There was a painful three-plus years of unspoken-ness and my admittedly stubborn refusal to even attend any family functions where Cheryl could possibly be present. I wasn't very nice to cousin Cheryl when I was around 26. Those weren't my best years, and because of our own respective personal crap, Cheryl and I clashed.

That changed five years ago, and thankfully so. For some unexplicable reason, we struck up a conversation while celebrating my mother-in-law's college graduation, an amazing accomplishment for someone who truly was dedicated to achieving her degree. (It took her a decade and a half to achieve what many of today's college students assume is a birthright, a decade that included working full-time, being the primary breadwinner in the family, and caring for two young children.)

There was a turning of the tide in that conversation between me and Cheryl, which was innocuous and civil enough. I saw the look of surprise and shock on relatives' faces, especially Cheryl's father, who seemed almost moved to tears at this exchange, and The Dean.

That week happened to be the same week of Boo's autism diagnosis. That first night was, to put it mildly, a sleepless and tear-filled one. I remember saying to The Dean, for reasons I won't get into here but for reasons we all know, "We're really going to need Cheryl."

And we have. And this post is my way of telling her how important a role she plays - and will play - in Betty's life. How we don't know what lies ahead for any of us, but that I know I speak for The Dean when I say how lucky, how grateful, how appreciative and how hopeful I am that Cheryl will be there for Betty in the future. How the very fact that knowing we have Cheryl gives us a sense of "everything-might-turn-out-to-be-OK."

Because Cheryl has turned out to be more than OK. With the gift that is time, she's turned out to be a friend, and someone who I love as my own cousin.

Which she is.

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