I am doing dishes, thinking to myself that I have waited too long to come up with a meaningful gift for my sister-in-law, Mara’s, 60th birthday. Sixty is after all a big deal. Especially when you have reached that age with everything intact: physical grace and beauty, a mind that is razor sharp, an eternally filled tank of energy, but most of all, a zest for living and the joy that can be found through adventures with her family and friends. Yup, that is Mara in a nutshell. Plus she has endured what seems like countless years married to my brother. 🙂 This birthday gift needed to be truly special.

And I sigh, as I put the last of the dishes away in the dishwasher, because what I have for her big day isn’t right. I am trying to put my finger on it. Why am I not happy with my present? After all, I did spend quite a few hours on it and enjoyed putting it together…but still. I can’t make myself wrap it and send it to her.

Let’s backtrack…I wanted to give her something extraordinary. Not just something I could buy in a store. So I decided to use my passion for sea glass and actually do something artsy with the mounds of sea glass I had accumulated over the years. My best pieces are kept in a special big jar that sits in my herb window in the kitchen. So I cracked that baby open and decided I would create a decorative bowl made of this lovely ocean tumbled glass.

I had seen it on Pinterest and remembered it looked pretty and was not too hard for the craft-impaired like myself. It involved glue and lots of patience to put the pieces together to make a nice shaped bowl. I was up for the task.

So, although it took several tries over numerous days, I fashioned a bowl from wonderfully colored smooth pieces of sea glass. And yes it is pretty, especially when the light shines through it just so…But I am the one who is cuckoo-pants about sea glass, not Mara. And in the end it didn’t seem like a good fit for a big birthday milestone like reaching 60 years of age. So here I am, thinking about Mara and what I could give her. And although I am at a loss about that, I do know there are boatloads of things Mara has given me…

Here goes:

**Mara has given me another family member that loves and cares for me = herself.

If you know her, you know how thoughtful and giving she is. She has always been super nice to me even when I was 22 and acting like a brooding teenager.

So I admit, 34 years ago I didn’t do cartwheels when I heard my brother was getting married. I was feeling a bit protective of him. He had after all just won an Olympic Gold Medal and had piqued the interest of many would-be girlfriends. But it turns out they were smitten kittens and after a whirl-wind romance were getting married. Could she really be the one? I didn’t know her. And I didn’t feel like I needed another “sister”.

That is because I have an incredible sister, Inara, who is the best sister in the whole wide world! She is older than me and has always, always looked after me. She loves me unconditionally and is my “go-to” when I need to talk to someone for advice. She is very wise and annoyingly right about most everything…She is a role model to me that has kicked ass in her professional and personal life. Who else has a pretty and smart-as-a-whip sister with a PhD, who has raised three amazing sons and has been happily wed since their Disco Inferno wedding in 1978 and are still in fact rockin’ it!

Therefore, why would I want another “sister” when I already have the best one possible? This is what I thought when my brother married my sister-in-law. I was a bit jealous of this woman that had made my brother fall head over heels in what seemed like a flash. Boy was I an idiot.

Mara was a gem and perfect for my brother and eventually for me as a sister-in-law. This is why:

**Mara is so nice that she was actually ok with me moving in with her and my brother while I was going to Graduate School and working my first post grad job in San Diego.

Who does this? Granted they were gone in Italy during the fall and winter for Aldis’s job as a professional volleyball player, but still, we were together during the spring and summer. And once they were done with living in Europe for part of the year, we lived together year round.

And during the course of these years, Mara and Aldis became parents to 3 boys, all close in age. Talk about a house filled with motion. This cutie-patootie trio of sons and their parents absolutely reveled in their family life. They were like a well-run beehive, with Mara as the queen and the boys all buzzing around her.

I was still single and focused on what to do with my career while I was living with them. Feeling unsure about my future it was a good feeling to be there with them. Witnessing how they were raising their kids, interacting with friends, dealing with everyday life situations had a permanent imprint on me. This family was a loving, joyous one that I wanted for myself one day.

** Mara showed me you can make new close friends at any time during the course of your life.

I used to think the only friends I needed were the ones that have known me the longest – mostly my friends from Latvian society that I have grown up with and some from my teenage and college years. I was pretty closed off. But I noticed Mara. She is constantly making new friends. She makes a point to get to know her neighbors (really who does this anymore?). She befriends the parents of her sons’ teammates. She makes friends with co-workers. This woman can strike up a conversation with anyone and make a connection.

For example, once we were at a winery having a picnic and a worker down the way was trimming some vines. Mara, an avid wine and gardening fan, intrigued by this site, walks over to the guy and the next thing you know she is being given a private lesson on the proper method of grooming grape vines.

**Mara sees you. Really sees you.

Like my sister, Inara, Mara has a keen sense of what’s going on around her. She is in tune to people’s moods and can tell when something is off. And when you may be feeling out of sorts, she is the first to come up with a plan. “Wouldn’t it be fun if we did this?” “Let’s make a special meal together with these fun ingredients!” “I think we should go try this out –it will be fun!”

Once in San Diego the temperatures for the week were high 90’s – just suffocatingly hot. Mara, a problem solver, saw everyone wilting in front of her eyes. Instead of just complaining about the heat (That would be me) she came up with an idea to take her three little boys and grouchy sister-in law on a joy ride in the air conditioned mini-van. We made colossal iced drinks for the adults and iced juice in sippy cups for the boys and drove around San Diego singing silly children’s songs playing on the tape recorder like “Baby Beluga” and “Joshua Giraffe”. That is a fun memory!

I’ve got boatloads of these types of times with Mara. After I met and fell in love with Norm, Mara was of course super nice to him (“Norm you are great. Perfect for Ieviņ. Please take her! ) And she has through the years been incredibly supportive and loving to us and our own two boys.

Let me wrap this up by saying –I always felt so blessed with the family I was born into – but I am super-duper blessed to have gained a wonderful extended family throughout the years. And Mara is a big part of what makes the blending of the families click.

So Happy 60th Birthday Mara!
I feel lucky and very glad you are part of my family. You are one of those people that truly makes the world a better place…  And yes, You make it fun!

Bučas,
Ieva

2 Comment on “The Elusive Perfect Gift

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