Friday, June 27, 2014

A Story for Sisters

I love being able to recommend movies and music to friends, especially when it's something they wouldn't have had exposure to otherwise. I'd love, right now, to be able to say that one of the movies that our girls have gravitated to is this little unheard-of gem from Disney with a great story about two sisters, and a few great songs. I'd love to tell you how much you'd like it, if only you knew about it. If only people had talked about it more. How if you searched hard enough on YouTube, maybe you would find one or two of the songs. But I can't, because I'm talking about Frozen.

Of course you've heard of Frozen. Everyone has heard of Frozen, as this great article in the Times illustrates. I've been thinking about the movie and a few of the songs this week, even before reading that piece, not just because they have been sung non-stop since January by the women who live in my house. Our older daughter Hannah turned 7 then, and chose, as her party, to have her girl classmates over to watch the movie and have ice cream in their pajamas (a sleepover with a more humane endpoint for us parents). We even had a special surprise mailed to us from my wife's cousin, who works for Disney.

All the girls, including Hannah had seen the movie already, so they didn't need to pay full attention throughout. They would mess with each other's hair, run around the room, or bounce around on our mini-trampoline --  basically fool around like seven-year-olds. Until the songs played. Every song commanded complete silence, which amazed me, but it didn't prepare me for the near-religious trance that descended on the room once "Let it Go" came on.

Hannah has one friend in particular who doesn't fit in with the rest of the girls. She gets picked on by a few of the other girls, and we're very happy that Hannah tries to stick up for her and be her friend. My wife and I  had to take care that night to make sure this girl was having fun; she'd even gotten teased at the beginning of the party for her choice of footie pajamas, and there had been tears. This girl was completely transfixed and transported when "Let it Go" started. Unblinking, her mouth moved silently along with the words. I didn't have, at that moment, a full command of the lyrics (at least compared to after the weekend's many repeat viewings). Once I knew them, I could see how the song spoke to this girl, who clearly felt like an outsider, at too young an age.

And as we watched the movie again and again that weekend, when the song came on, I would look over at Zoe, my own unusual treasure of a daughter, who at this point is old enough to wonder just how she fits in, here at home, at school, out in the world.  I could see her, too, absorbing the words and music. We played her the song more and more on her sister's MP3 player, or with the YouTube clip of the movie scene. Even her teacher caught on, replacing the Wiggles clips she used to play for Zoe as a reward for, or break from, hard work, a reflection of Zoe's tastes growing up along with her. And it is a great song, and a great scene (although it is not my personal favorite rendition of it).

But that is not the song from Frozen that resonates most with me. There is a different song that destroys me. Every day of my life I see two sisters with barriers put between them by Rett Syndrome. Some of those barriers may be working in our favor; a younger sibling who can't talk or use her hands effectively is also a younger sibling who can't tell on you, take your Barbies, or tell you to shut up. But most of the time, we see the girls' disappointment that they can't do all the same things, together, whenever they want. Riding bikes. Playing dress-up. Building snowmen. We see and feel that disappointment ourselves. It goes beyond disappointment.

We are raising two separate girls but trying with all our power to not have them have two separate lives. Granted, no one is wearing gloves to save the rest of us from her icy touch or quarantining themselves in their room, but there is still a division on which we never planned (especially for two girls we were so excited would be just 18 months apart forever). This spring we rearranged furniture in the house to make space in our son's room. As part of the moves, Hannah got upgraded from a twin- to a queen-size bed. Immediately, she started talking about having Zoe sleep over in her room. At first, I wasn't sure if it would work, but we rigged up pillows and cushions to help keep Zoe stable and in place. They've had a few sleepovers, but it's not the same as what, I'm sure, Hannah envisioned. They may giggle, Hannah may whisper to Zoe while they're still awake, but they can't pretend they're sharing secrets or arguing or anything that should come with a sisters relationship.

It is a beautiful spring day here, and even though we had snow flurries the other morning (a reminder that this winter refuses to give us up), no one is building a snowman. Zoe is napping, but we will try to do something with her outside later. I'm watching out the window as her older sister walks around the yard, talks to herself, and picks dandelions. It doesn't take much imagination on my part to know exactly what she wants.