I recently read guest-blogger Annette Lyon’s homage to Brillig’s treatise on the adoring younger sister, and my mind raced to my own experience, but in reverse -- that of the resentful older sister.
Earlier this morning, I read the latest from Kimberly at Temporary?Insanity -- in part, a realization that she had been comparing her wilder oldest daughter to the calmer second-born saint. And it struck me again that this sibling rivalry theme is screaming for attention (pun intended).
Emily and I are exactly two years and two days apart. Frequently Mom would celebrate both our birthdays together on the day in between. (Seems like a good idea as a mom, but at the time it felt like a giant rip-off!)
My sister imitated me at everything, from coloring books to college majors. Even though her fourth-grade teacher pointedly warned her not to turn out like her big sister (true story) she kept on copying. It drove me nuts. (I now find it hilariously fitting that she actually got a part-time job in a copy shop!) The funniest part of all was that I was spunky and rebellious and she was the straight-laced, responsible one. (It’s like Beezus wanting to be Ramona the Pest. Go figure.) Anyway, I was sure Mom loved her best.
My sister was a really funny little kid. She had this wild, red curly hair, and our mom could never contain it or even get a brush through it, so she ended up just putting a headband on her most of the time. I remember when Mom and Dad would introduce us to friends, the people would say, “Look at that gorgeous redhead” and then they’d take a sidelong glance at me and add, “Hmmm...she has braces, doesn’t she?” I did not like being compared to her.
In her late teens, Emily transformed into an even-more-gorgeous swan. She decided to grow out her hair and really capitalize on it. Now she looks like a J Crew model. So. Not. Fair.
Unfortunately, I also remember how mean I was to my sister. (Probably jealous of the hair!) My earliest childhood memory is when I was just two years old and Emily was a new baby. We were at our Grandma’s house, and I couldn’t stand the way everyone was fussing over Baby Emily and no one was paying any attention to me. (I had clearly enjoyed being the center of everyone’s universe for two whole years and was reluctant to share that prized position.) It was bad enough that Mom and Dad were making such a fuss over the new baby, but now my very own special Grandma was doing it too? I was so angry and hurt, I went and crawled into Grandma’s bedroom closet. (I can still remember what it felt like groping under all those coats and dresses in the dark, like slipping through the wardrobe to Narnia -- although I came back as the evil White Witch.) I had found the perfect thing -- a sequined slipper. I sneaked back into the living room and marched right over to where Grandma was holding the newborn, and whacked poor Baby Emily on the head!
When I was several years older I remember chasing her down the hall in a fit of indignant rage. She, of course, ran into our bedroom and shut the door, and then held it shut so I couldn’t get in. Not to be outdone, I got the brilliant idea to go off in search of a ruler so I could poke her feet away from the door and let myself in. Jab-jab-jab....I kept poking and stabbing the ruler under the door. And it worked. But when she opened the door, she had all these little welts on her forehead -- it turns out she was down on all fours LOOKING UNDER THE DOOR to see if I was coming -- and I WAS ACTUALLY POKING HER IN THE HEAD! *Ooops!* [wince]
It drove me crazy how rule-bound she was. (Must have been that ruler episode! Literally had it pounded into her!) And I probably resented it all the more because that unquestioning obedience was one of the things our mom adored about her. But as we’ve gradually matured, I’ve come to completely love and admire her and actually enjoy being around her. Even the copy-cat thing worked out for the greater good. When I had to do 24 watercolor illustrations for a fragrance company in Santa Cruz, I hired my sister to do half of them. Amazingly, no one could tell who did which (but I secretly liked most of hers better than my own).
And, although we still have occasional power struggles, I think she’s finally forgiven me for all the rotten things I did when we were little. It’s funny -- she was the younger one, but somehow I was the one who needed to grow up. And she became one of my very best measuring sticks.