The best birthday present I’ve ever received

Welcome to my birthday week.

I share this not to encourage you to send a gift. Rather, the exact opposite.

Don’t bother.

There’s no need, as I long ago received my best gift ever. All others have always paled in comparison.

This one showed up 2 1/2 weeks before my seventh birthday. A gift I knew was on the way. My parents gave my brother and I a heads-up months before.

Brother followed this breaking news by hauling me in the backyard, pinning me up against the fence and threatening, “If you tell any kid on this block about this, I’ll beat you up.”

He’s barely a year older than I, just enough at the time, to realize what our parents had done to make this happen.

And so, my lips remained sealed right up until the gift showed up, 17 days before my birthday.

“You have a baby sister!” my dad told us over the phone from the hospital.

From day one, this girl has been value-added. Truly. Starting with that dollar bet she won for me. Of course, I bet girl and Brother bet boy.

Remember that? When you had to wait until the baby was born to find out what it was? Before ultrasounds and these silly gender reveal parties?

Maybe you know this kind of gift, Dear Reader — not just to have a sister. Even better, to have one you are old enough to remember every moment of her being.

Some 7 year-olds get a baby doll for their birthday. I got a real baby.

My first “half-kid,” I like to call her, reflecting on the luck of our having a mother who wasn’t much interested in all the mommy stuff. Birthday parties, Halloween costumes, care packages for sleep-away camp.

I got to do all of them.

There was a time in her 20s when she had to explain she was a grown-up person now. Simply my sister. “It’s time to drop ‘baby’” Baby Sister suggested.

Maybe you’ve gotten the same talking-to. Maybe you’re able to marvel at the person your real life baby doll grew up to be.

It’s easy with this sister.

So much smarter, creative and talented than I will ever be.

Maybe you’ve made space for each other,

For how different you are from each other — as it turns out my sister and I are. Oh, so different.

She has highs that would make me dizzy, lows that would sink me. I have a steadiness that would bore her to tears.

And yet, we are each other’s biggest fans.

I’ve learned more from raising her up than just about anything else I’ve done in my life. No need to move my birthday party out of the house like we did weeks after Sister was born. That part has changed.

The gratitude and joy for best gift ever? That forever remains the same.

Happy Birthday, my fellow January Baby.

Happy Birthday.

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