My younger sister was born when I was 7. In my memory, I always remember my sister being with me. It seems strange that I don’t remember how life was before she was in it.
Before she was born, my most vivid memory that I had at the beginning of the school year when I was 7, was my blue Smurf bag. My mum had bought me a blue squarish backpack to bring to school and I was super psyched to bring it with me to school for the first day of primary 1. Being much more hardworking at age 7 than I am now, I resolved to pack in all my textbooks for the first term plus 5 jotter books and of course a full pencil case with at least 3 pencils, 2 erasers, a sharpener and a ruler for good measure. After that, I realised I could not lift the bag up to put it behind me so I lay down on the floor to wriggle my hands into the arm holes of the bag. I could not lift myself up either so I lay on the floor till my mother was ready to fetch me to school. I pretended that I was tired and she did not suspect a thing. She helped me up and off to school, we went. I sat that way in the car, with the backpack behind me, all the way to school. Needless to say, when I took the schoolbus home after, I fell unceremoniously onto my back on my grandma’s lawn. If you have ever seen a turtle on its shell, wriggling its arms and feet, that was how I looked.
At the end of that same school year, I remember my mum’s belly being enormous. My sister was born at the end of that year and life was never the same since. Before, I had the attention of everyone, after that, everyone always came to the room to see the baby. It didn’t help that she was a much better looking child than I ever was. Nobody could tell if I was a boy or a girl. But with her double eyelids from birth and her impish smile, there was no mistaking her for a boy.
Suddenly it was like life was to be shared. My mum and grandma was always busy with her. Showering her, changing her diapers, putting her in her pram to ‘sun’ in the garden in the early evenings, rocking her to sleep, speaking softly around her and folding her clothes. I was always told to go do my homework, go play, go to the living room, don’t speak loudly around the baby etc. Just like my bag, I was set aside after a while.
But soon, when we were left alone, I grew to love the new addition. Oh well, I figured she was here to stay so I might as well be friends with it. She always smelled so powdery, and her hair was so soft. I began to love her and to read my books beside her as she slept. I was always checking her diapers to see if she pooped and I would triumphantly run to tell my grandmother about it. I would then pull out the diaper drawer and take out a new diaper for her to change my sister. For the first few months, my grandma used cloth diapers that could be washed as the commercial diapers were expensive. She would fasten the cloth diaper snugly around my sister and put her onto the bed again. I would resume reading my books and would read to her as well. She would often look up at me and smile, toothless.
Soon, I learnt to change her diaper, carry her on the bed on my lap, rock her to sleep, prepare her milk for her and dress her myself. I think my mother was grateful that I helped and I was super happy to be able to.
Soon, she was walking and I would go everywhere with her and hold her little chubby hand as she stumbled along. She loved to draw illegible scribbles on papers and give them to me like they were her best presents. I remembered collecting all of them and pinning them up on the wall. We were inseparable when we were young and because of the age difference, I was always her protector.
One particular incident in our childhood stands out in my mind – she loved to play at the playground when she came back from school. She was never one to finish her homework after school immediately and was a much more carefree kid than I was. She came back from the playground one day crying and said that another child there had forbidden her to play. I held her hand, marched her to the playground and demanded to know who it was. I think I was only 12 then. I scolded the other child and for the next few days, I sat on the bench reading while scanning the playground for the bully. She never came back ever.
Fast forward 10 years and she struggled in secondary school with her grades. We were very worried that she was hanging out with the wrong crowd and repeatedly warned her of the consequences. Both of us seemed to have forgotten all the good times that we had since we were young and school, friends, boys all got our attention instead. Thankfully, she pulled herself together and had even better grades that I did a few years later, in university.
Fast forward 20 years and here we are.
It is funny how things turned out. She is behaving like I was, when I was her age. I would always comment that she is not at home and my mum would casually say – oh you were exactly the same. I find myself asking my mum why she does not worry when my sister is not home by 12am and she would say – because I went through it with you.
I never realised that my sister probably thought I was never at home too when we were younger. Right now, we are even beginning to look alike.
Sometimes when I think of ourselves when we were young, I realize who we are as kids, determine who we are going to be as adults. She was always the carefree, happy child and I was the worrywart. She never had to study till 3am for her exams but I regularly did. She has much more trendy, casual clothes and I would always steal from her closets. I stress about plans when we travel while she just enjoys the ride. Now that she has much more friends that I can possibly count, from all walks of life, a part of me feels left behind too.
For every problem that she has or any sadness that she experiences, I wish that I can march into her life, just like when we were 5 and 12. Just like I did when we were young.
But I cannot. I wish that, for all that I have done for her and with her, that she has the strength to see herself through her life’s experiences and realise that she is not alone. Every time she shares her problems with me, I want to solve it for her. Every time I see her hesitating with her plans to move forward, I want to tell her that it is alright, that she can fail. I hope that whatever I have shown her by example, she can see that she has that in her too. I want to tell her that she is much stronger than she thinks she is. I want to tell her nobody else’s opinions or judgements matter in the long run.
In my mind, she is always 5. My husband always says that I am so used to taking care of her that I have forgotten that she has grown up. “Give her some credit, she is stronger than you think” he always says.
Just as I am re-reading this post, I realize that my nature has taken over again. I tend to see the worries that she has rather than how full her life is. And how joyful she is all of the time. Perhaps it is the elder sister syndrome again.
But one thing will always remain, just like when she was 5, I am always here.