“There is space within sisterhood for likeness and difference, for the subtle differences that challenge and delight; there is space for disappointment—and surprise.” ~ Christine Downing
My sister once told me one reason siblings are different is they’re not born into the same family.
Jayne—the one and only first born—was welcomed into the world with hope during a stage my mom and dad had been told the world was tough, but maybe they didn’t quite believe it yet.
Our brother—Mr. Middle Child—arrived on the scene into Hey, maybe we can make it.
Then, just five years after my sister’s arrival, I was born into the heart of challenge.
I swam in my mom’s frustration for nine months. I ate her Oh God, what have I gotten myself into? for nourishment.
Maybe that’s why I spent too many years wishing to leave this world.
Or what I was doing at the age of eight weeks, returning to the hospital with pneumonia, checking into an oxygen tent, and keeping human touch at a distance.
My mother said the doctors told her, “Go home and take care of your other children.”
Five days later, when my parents picked me up from the hospital, a nurse said, “This time, take care of her.”
My mom hardly had room for me in her arms with all that pressure.
Besides, my independent streak and fighting inclinations had already taken root in that tent. I won my first battle and was ready for more.
However, as a toddler, I quickly learned my mother was not somebody you wanted to do battle with.
The lessons my sister learned—baking, measuring, and Winnie the Pooh seemed spent before I arrived.
We all learned about Mama Bear and that saying: If mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy. Yeah, totally true.
My mom wasn’t happy.
My dad worked. If I said all the time, it might seem like an exaggeration, but if I said he was a workaholic, that might be underplaying it.
My father appears as a visitor in my young memories.
Then, right at that crux, where my parents parted and my sister did her final years at home, the families my sister and I lived in shifted again.
By the time I was a teenager, I knew parents were just playing at righteousness and big sisters were really the difference makers.
After all, who explained divorce and that love that goes on, anyway? Who took care of me when I was sick or let me tag along on dates? Who worried when I stayed out late?
My big sister parented me when my parents were busy doing other things—like trying to get their sh*t together.
Ok, are you with me so far?
1) Parents fall in love.
2) Get pregnant.
3) Get married.
4) Have my sister.
5) Have my brother.
6) Have me.
8) Make a new decision.
My formative years were filled with my parents arguing, cutting up credit cards, building bookshelves, road trips to therapists, and me being left alone. Well, often in the care of my brother and sister.
This was the 1970s. These things were done. My parents tried for traditional, but that’s one thing neither of them could adhere to.
The thing is they tried—really hard. They wore us all out with the struggle.
What a different world develops in five short years—both the years since my sister was born and the ones after my parents divorced.
Jayne found love and leaped into it. She moved to the other side of the country.
I was unprepared for life without her. She built a family with her husband and sons, as she should.
I found myself a part of a new family with my stepmom, stepbrother and stepsister. We did family stuff like vacations, dinners, and playing canasta.
I was getting the love I needed. So was my sister—in another world.
In the beginning—her beginning—my sister was served hope with a side of parental presence. I arrived for leftovers.
I never saw the full meal in my original home, so I didn’t miss not getting dessert.
Jayne knew something had been left off the table. She took off to find something sweet.
I stayed home and was introduced to peace. Plus, I got my turn to be the big sister! I poured love and protection into my stepsister’s atmosphere.
See, my sister showed me how, having arrived first in the world. And those five years, they made all the difference.