There was a time when my little sister, Kati, and I were practically inseparable.
Kati loved coming to my house because she got all of the attention. There weren’t seven other kids battling for love and affection. Just her and me.
Kati spent holidays at my house. I made here green eggs and green milk for St. Patrick’s Day. Donald and I would make Easter egg hunts just for her. She had her own Christmas stocking hanging up at our house.
It wasn’t that my parents didn’t want Kati around. Kati just didn’t want to be around them. My family’s house was always in turmoil. My parents were always fighting. The kids were constantly battling against each other. And Kati, being the smallest, was often lost in the fray.
There were more than a few times when Kati asked if Donald and I would adopt her, but I always declined. I told her she wouldn’t have as much fun with us if we were her real parents because I’d make her do her homework and go to bed early.
No, it was much better this way. I got to be the fun big sister who dressed up like a ballerina with her (sorry no pictures). I stayed up late making her ice cream sundaes and reading her Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I wouldn’t let her watch the movie until after we’d read the book).
One other thing I remember about my years hanging out with Kati was her birthdays.
Our family has never been big on birthdays. My mom always said if she let one of us have a birthday party then all of us would want a birthday party. And in my house that amounted to a birthday party almost every month, sometimes twice in one month.
It just wasn’t happening.
But Kati always got a special birthday when I was around. For her third birthday I invited all of my friends out to dinner as though it was my own birthday. We just went to some little diner and I didn’t expect it to be too big of a deal.
But it was. Everybody brought her gifts and balloons and cards. And the waitress brought here a huge sundae with sparklers. And everybody sang Happy Birthday to her.
I don’t know if she even remembers that now. It was quite a long time ago.
The last birthday I got to spend with her was her ninth birthday (the one pictured above).
I had returned from France just three days prior. But I had promised Kati I’d make her birthday special. I got my other sister, Jess, in on the plan. We decorated my apartment. Set up a karaoke machine and invited both Kati’s and my friends over to celebrate. It wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped, but I think Kati still had fun.
About a year later my family moved to Idaho, taking Kati with them. Every year after I’ve told Kati I’ll come visit her for her birthday, but I’ve never been able to make it. I’ve missed three of her birthdays now.
Kati and I had grown apart a bit anyway. I’d been gone in France for eight months and I think she felt a bit abandoned. Also, I stopped having her over as often because my parents blamed me for Kati’s not being baptized.
In the Mormon religion children don’t get baptized until they’re eight years old, ostensibly because they want people to make their own decision as to whether they believe and want to be a member of the church.
As you’ll soon see, this isn’t actually the case.
Kati had put hers off for the first year, saying she wanted to wait until I got home from France. It was a good strategy for her. She got to deflect the attention to me. My dad called me up in Paris and said, “Kati isn’t getting baptized because of you.”
That’s what he said.
He asked me to talk to her, to plead with her to get baptized before she turned nine. I told him it wasn’t that big of a deal and he could schedule it for the month I returned.
I thought Kati really did want to get baptized. I thought she just wanted to wait until I was there for it.
But several months later Kati still wasn’t baptized.
I thought it was just my parents being irresponsible as usual. After all, I wasn’t baptized until I was almost nine too. Not because I didn’t want to, but because my parents just never bothered to schedule it and send out the invitations.
So why were my parents so concerned this time?
Well, it turns out that Kati flat out told them no. She said she wasn’t getting baptized.
Now the pressure was on.
One Sunday evening I went to raid my parents pantry for groceries. When I arrived I was surprised to find my dad and Kati in the living room with two missionaries while the rest of the family seemed to be hiding out in the kitchen.
“What’s Kati doing in there with the missionaries?” I asked.
“They’re trying to make her get baptized.” my brother told me.
“What do you mean? Of course she’s going to get baptized,” I said.
“No, she won’t,” my brother said. “They come here nearly every week and every week she tells them no.”
At this point I went searching for my mom, who was hiding out like everyone else.
She told me the missionaries came twice a month, but Kati wasn’t budging.
People, this is a nine-year-old kid. Children do not tell adults no. They do what everyone else does. And in our family and our circle of friends, everyone else gets baptized.
After this I was intrigued by my sister and her strength to stand up for what she, in this case, doesn’t believe.
Of course, although my heart was swelling with pride, I didn’t tell her that. It would for sure be my fault if I encouraged her on this path.
Today Kati is 12 years old. She’s made it more than four years without getting baptized, even after my parents moved her to Utah last summer.
The missionaries continued to come while they lived in Idaho.
And Kati continued to tell them no.
Every so often, when I called my mother, and trying to not sound eager, I would inquire about Kati and the missionaries.
Exasperated, my mom would say, “The missionaries still come on Sundays. Your dad won’t tell them to leave her alone.”
This week though two of my sisters came to visit and I found out that my mom finally put her foot down.
The story as relayed to me by my sister:
The bishop of their new ward came to my parents with Kati’s church records.
“There seems to be a problem with your daughter’s records,” he said.
“No, there’s no problem,” my mom said.
“Well, it says here that she’s not baptized yet,” he persists.
“Yes. That’s not a mistake,” my mom says.
“No. That’s the way she wants it and that’s the way it’s going to stay. If you send even one missionary to our house I’m going to leave the church for good. I will not allow any of my children to step foot in this church again. Got it?”
And the missionaries have stopped coming.
UPDATE, November 2009: I just learned, via Facebook, that Kati is getting baptized. Apparently all the church had to do was give her some space.
I never knew people were stacked in threes in Brooklyn. I like driving by the cemetaries on my Cab rides to the airport and seeing all the crowded stones. It’s like a maze of dead people.
They’re short on space in Taiwan as well – I was amazed at the number of stones and shrines they could pack into one hillside. I’m also not sure how you can even hike up to some of them. Wow.
(Also, great post, Irene. I keep cringing when I try to write the 1000-word bit….)