I was four years old and she was eight when we decided that we were best friends.
“You’re my best,” she said.
“You’re my best, too.” I answered.
And that’s how it was.
In some ways it was a simple rendition of the reality-TV show Survivor – Emilie and I had an early alliance. We had to, you see; in a family of nine kids, there were ongoing battles with the other siblings, and even though it seemed that it might be easier at times to join forces with the stronger ones, Emilie and I instinctively stuck together.
I was good at flying under the radar. Emilie was not.
Believe it or not, I was the “shy” and “quiet” one. I didn’t want attention, and I would duck and seek cover from any potential limelight. Emilie, however, was “outgoing” and “motivated.” She loved attention and I could always count on her to volunteer for every speaking opportunity or solo music performance that came within arm’s reach.
Emilie had begun plotting out her entertainment career at an early age. As my dad mentioned in a blog post last year, she hired an acting agent at age seven and began auditioning for commercials and television, and by age twelve she had a full-fledged voiceover career. I loved coming home from elementary school to watch our favorite show, an anime saga called Robotech, and it was so cool that my sister Emilie was one of the voices. (She voiced a red-haired, motorcycle helmet-wearing girl named Annie on Robotech, the New Generation. )
Sure, there were also times we didn’t get along, like the time I moved in with her for the summer when she was in college. She would come home and find me watching “Pretty Woman” or some other show and she would ask, “What did you do today?”
“Nothing, just watched movies,” I’d say.
To which she’d reply, “How can you feel good about yourself? You didn’t get anything done!”
“Emilie, it’s summer.”
That was the biggest difference between us and probably still is. Emilie is always scheming and dreaming up the next big thing and I am trying to enjoy my summer.
When Leah was two years old and Alex was one, I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah. Emilie lived in Los Angeles. I flew to LA to do some Pampered Chef® shows for Emilie and some of her friends. (Yes, I was once a Pampered Chef® Consultant, mostly in hopes of overcoming my debilitating fear of being in front of people.) When I arrived at her apartment, she said, “Ray, check it out! The apartment right across from mine is empty. You guys should move in!”
There was a stairway with two doors at the top. One door was hers. Within a matter of months, the other door became mine. Aaron and I moved to L.A. because there was an empty apartment next to my sister Emilie. That is CRAZY! We had no jobs. We were parenting a deaf toddler. Crazy!
Neighbors, cousins, and best friends; Alex and Leah grew up together. They got their first haircuts together. Alex came along to all of our sign language classes.
When I was on bed rest for ten weeks during my pregnancy with Lucy, being next door to my sister seemed heaven-sent. Leah had a built-in playmate. We had meals. We had backup.
A few years later, Emilie and family moved to Virginia. I cried for weeks when they moved. I never felt more alone. We talked on the phone every day and it was around that time that Emilie called me, asking me if I wanted to make a video for kids – the video that eventually became Signing Time. We joked that it was just a good excuse to be together.
Originally Alex and Leah were meant to teach the signs in Signing Time. After watching the first rough edit, Emilie told me that I had to be in the show to model the signs. I was horrified. She said, “I can’t do it, Ray. You are Leah’s mom. You can.”
When the show was almost complete, Emilie asked me to write a theme song, even though I had stopped writing music after we found out Leah was deaf. She said, “I know you say you’re not a singer. I know you say you’re not a songwriter anymore. But you’re the closest thing we’ve got, so go write me a song.” That day, I ended up writing two songs, “The Signing Time Theme” and “Show Me a Sign.” As I imagine you know, almost 100 songs followed. So, don’t get mad at me when one of my songs gets stuck in your head – get mad at Emilie!
Most of you wouldn’t be able to pick Emilie out of a crowd. It’s crazy really. I get a lot of applause. I get a lot of awards. But really, I would still be home on the couch watching “Pretty Woman” if it wasn’t for my older sister.
Em, thanks for pushing me, ‘cause I sure wasn’t going to push myself!
Happy Birthday. You’re still my best.