Do you ever think about how much your life has been affected by the “big kids” you looked up to when you were a kid? Even though I have twelve siblings, I don’t have any older siblings, because I’m the oldest. I did have several older girls that I looked up to as a kid and still admire now. There were my super cool older cousins, the girl who played volleyball and was on the worship team at school, the basketball star who was also the older sister of my best friend, my babysitter, and the group of girls that I just thought were super cool.
The first people I remember looking up to were my cousins Sandy and Amanda. To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot about them from when I was kid, because I only saw Sandy maybe once a year when I visited Georgia with my family and even though I think I saw Amanda a lot when I was little, there was an eleven year gap in time when I didn’t see or talk to her because my family moved from Virginia to Florida and ultimately Texas before we became friends on the wonderful social media platform that is Facebook.
Sandy is my parents’ age so I didn’t really hang out with her to begin with, so that’s probably a reason why I don’t remember a lot about her. I do remember one thing though. Actually, I remember two things. Sandy, or maybe her husband, drove a Jeep Wrangler and Jeeps are awesome. My favorite memory though is that until I grew up and was too old, Sandy would grab my arms and spin me around in circles. I don’t know why I loved that so much, since I can’t stand the feeling of being dizzy now, but then it was awesome and I thought Sandy was one of the coolest people in the world because she and her husband would spin me and my brother around in circles until we were too dizzy to stand!
Amanda is actually only three years older than I am which is super weird to think about now, because when I was little I always thought she was way older than I was! I mean, I guess three years older than an elementary school kid is a lot older than three years older than twenty-three, but still! It seemed like a much bigger gap then! Anyway, Amanda was always the coolest person in my eyes. She would give me piggyback rides and hangout with me and our younger brothers and was just generally the coolest “big kid” a “little kid” could ever ask to have as an older cousin! I don’t know how old I was when this happened, but I know I had to have been no older than five. I distinctly remember being at Amanda’s house one day standing at the screen door looking outside and anxiously waiting for her to get home from school or some place so we could play. In my mind’s eye, I can still see myself standing there exclaiming happily when I saw her coming up the driveway.
I also remember living in Florida when Amanda and her family came to visit me and my family. My brother and I weren’t allowed outside by ourselves because we lived in an apartment, but we were allowed outside if Amanda and her older brother, Jeremiah, went outside with us. I remember Amanda and Jeremiah telling me, my brother, and their little brother a story about a swarm of killer bees killing a lady. I don’t know why I remember that, but I do, and for whatever reason the boys and I thought it was the most interesting story ever! Later that night, we sat outside the apartments in a patch of grass eating cake when the sprinklers went off spraying us all with water. It was hilarious.
The last time I got to see Amanda in person, she had a newborn baby and was getting married. I even got to go with her when she picked out her wedding dress! To say I was excited is an understatement! She was my favorite cousin growing up, so of course it was exciting to be able to be there when she picked out her wedding dress and went shopping for other wedding things. At the end of the week that I spent in North Carolina with Amanda’s family, I took a road trip with her, her mom, and her baby to go to Georgia to meet up with my family. Again, I was super excited because Amanda was my favorite older cousin. Now, I get to watch her life happen on Facebook and it’s a blessing I never would have thought to ask for!
Another girl I always looked up to was named Joy. She and the rest of the girls in this post were all high schoolers at the private school I grew up in and around. When I was in third grade, she and her team went to and won the state championship for volleyball. Because I thought she was one of the coolest people ever, I remember drawing her a congratulations card and giving it to her at church the following Sunday. When she became my volleyball coach in fifth grade and later in high school, I drank in every word she said about anything. It probably never really looked like it, because I was clumsy and wasn’t very good at sports… or walking for that matter, but I did. Everything she said, I took in and dreamed of perfecting because I never forgot watching her play in the state championship game. When she became my teacher in tenth grade, I was just as excited as when she became my volleyball coach. Here was this older girl that I had always looked up to teaching me how to play volleyball and helping me get through school. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have graduated high school if it wasn’t for the fact that she let me sit beside her every single day to learn math. Almost everything I learned in high school was directly or indirectly affected by Joy. I’ll forever be grateful for the influence she had on my life.
Next there was another girl named Amanda. This Amanda was the older sister of my best friend, Emily, so I spent a lot of time around her. In many ways, she took up the role as my older sister when I needed someone to be there for me. When we watched movies that were mostly appropriate for child eyes but had a scene here or there that wasn’t appropriate for us, she would mute the TV and tell us to close our eyes until the scene passed. The three things I remember most three things about her though. One is a memory of a night when I was sleeping over at their house. Emily, Amanda, and I were laying in the dark of their bedroom talking when the topic of the rapture came up. For a good half hour at least, Amanda tried her best to answer any questions Emily and I had and tried to reassure any fears that we might have had. There was also a time when we were watching a Mary-Kate and Ashley movie and they were freaking out about some boy and Amanda paused the movie to tell us that we should never be that boy crazy or reliant on a boy’s opinion of us. I’ll never forget those moments. I’ll also never forget how much Amanda believed in me. She was a basketball star at our school and also our basketball coach when I was in eighth grade. She taught me all the basics I needed to know about basketball. She believed in me enough that when I wasn’t there to pick my own basketball number she picked it for me. She didn’t just pick any number though, she picked a number that had previously been her basketball number, 42, which would go on to be my basketball number until I graduated high school. In high school, when I was always the sub and never the starter for volleyball and basketball, she would come up to me after games to encourage me and give me tips and pointers. When I was new to lyric writing, she let me show her my songs and showed me again that she believed in me.
Amanda was one of my babysitters growing up, but there was another girl who was also my babysitter. Her name is Victoria. Victoria, aka Vickie when we were growing up, was always well-prepared for any situation that might take place while babysitting. She had games and craft supplies and she was just generally super fun. I can’t say I remember any one specific moment with Victoria, but I can say that I always looked up to her. I can say that even now I still look up to her as I watch her raise her kids through the looking glass that is Facebook.
Now there were the girls that I just always thought were super cool because they were always nice to me—Beth, Mandy, Erica, Nicole, Melody, Brandy, Rebekah, Sarah, Ana, and others that I’m sure I’ll kick myself for forgetting to mention by name. These were the girls that seemed to live in a completely different world than I did. They were older and cooler and distant. I watched them live their lives from the world of an elementary school student. They were the girls that were always around when I was little. They were the older sisters of my own classmates. They were athletes and musicians. They were each other’s best friends. They were everything that I wanted to be and more. They, Erica and Nicole, were the girls who sat in a bedroom at my grandparents’ house while the adults had Bible study and played with and talked to me and my brother and sister even though they could have acted like they were too cool to talk to us. I looked up to these girls the way I hope the younger kids in my life all look up to me. They were my role models and many of them are still people I watch on Facebook and look up to as they start and raise families, succeed in their jobs and dreams, and just live life. These girls, including the ones I mentioned individually, are girls that have affected nearly every area of my life and I don’t think they’ll ever know how much I’ve learned from them in my 20 or so years of watching them live their lives. I hope they’ll all read this though and see that even if they didn’t know it at the time, they were my biggest role models. Even though I’ve always been an obsessive person who knows everything there is to know about the celebrities I’ve looked up to—Hilary Duff, the Olsen Twins, Lindsay Lohan, so on and so forth—no matter how well the celebrities were doing in their lives, I always looked up to the girls I actually knew the most.