Little Women

There is always a certain guilt involved when you realize it’s been a long time since you’ve seen members of your family. The guilt is more pronounced when there are children involved.

It’s been about four years since John and I last saw my sister Anneliese, her husband Craig and their four daughters. They live out in Nebraska, which is far enough to discourage casual trips by car, and remote enough that airfare is prohibitive. Nonetheless, John and I decided that it was time we saw them, and we flew out for a long weekend.

Liese and Craig haven’t changed that much, but the daughters have. Four years span a world of changes when little girls turn into little women. The knobby-kneed kids I saw four years ago have turned into winsome and willowy creatures, each with a wicked sense of humor.

The thing I find most appealing about these girls is that although their ages span the teen years, there’s none of that “too cool” attitude that you get from most kids their age, where you’re afraid to touch them for fear of embarrassing them or otherwise shattering their carefully constructed image of themselves. Eileen, Amanda, Johanna and Caitlin demonstrate none of this standoffish-ness. They’re affectionate, chatty, bright and open to the world around them. It’s refreshing. We visited the State Capitol and the girls were more than ready to horse around and have their pictures made doing it. That’s Johanna, Caitlin and Amanda above, crunching with John and me around one of the marble columns inside the Capitol. Then we had a tour of the building with a delightfully dotty old guide. Most teenagers would have slouched along reluctantly, sighing and displaying their utter boredom with the whole procedure; the girls were alert and interested.

We met up with the eldest daughter, Eileen, at college (that’s her at right, on campus). She showed John and me all around with enthusiasm, pointing out her favorite spots (a special garden, a particular bench). It’s nice when someone that age really wants to share with you.

All the girls have their particular interests and skills. Eileen is in the Medieval and Renaissance Studies program at school; she sings beautifully and is not shy about giving you a demonstration. Amanda is a gifted pianist. Johanna is a gymnast and plays the violin. Caitlin also sings (actually, they all sing) and plays the violin; her sport is baseball. All of them are scary smart.

Liese and Craig are strict with the girls. They’ve set definite limits: no ear-piercing until thirteen, no makeup until sixteen. The girls go to church on Sunday. They must study and do their best in school. They must ask permission before leaving the house and say where they’re going – no “hanging out” at the local mall.

Some might call Liese and Craig hopelessly old-fashioned and behind the times, but rather than being sheltered, naive and shy, their girls are confident, outgoing, well-rounded and accomplished. Maybe it’s because they’ve been given rules and limits that they’re able to be certain of where and who they are are. Maybe it’s because they operate from such a secure base that they seem so grounded.

And maybe it’s because the one thing Craig and Liese don’t limit is love. They don’t stint on hugs – or praise. I think the girls are well aware that the limitations they’re given are because their parents care about them. I think they love their parents for it, and aren’t afraid to show it.

And that’s refreshing, too.


  1. Mairi

    It sounds as though you have a great relationship with your sister and her family. Maybe that’s a lesson for us all – absence makes the heart grow fonder. Sounds like your nieces have grown in to very rounded and intelligent young women. Judging by the photographs they resemble you physically too. My godaughter is nearly 7 and I am terrified for her future. She is a beautiful, intelligent and witty young girl, but there are so many outside influences that threaten her development. At the moment she is on the right track and deeplyloved, supported and nurtured by her parents. The worry is always the rest of society and how it influences her.

  2. Donna Migliaccio

    The family resemblance is indeed terrifying. If you compare Amanda (the niece on the far right of the group photo) to my sister Margaret, it’s REALLY scary. I think Johanna bears a faint resemblance to me, but she’s far more attractive than I was at that age.

  3. Mairi

    That’s your sister who plays hockey, yes? I can see it. The comparison of Johanna’s looks to yours at her age is relative really – to how you felt at the time and to how you feel about your teenage self now. Appearance and reality – it’s a blessing and a curse!

  4. Editaur

    Agree completely. Those girls are a treat — they’re fun just to TALK to, you can have an actual, interesting conversation — and the whole family is a pleasure to be around. I had a great visit this fall.

  5. Donna Migliaccio

    Yeah, she does look like Liese, but she ACTS like Margaret (although she hasn’t started leaping around muttering “heddo, heddo” yet). She’s definitely an independent spirit.

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