Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The simple joys of sisterhood

Big sister, little sister.
I grew up in two very distinct mentalities. In one, I was an only child. In the other, I was a much younger sister. The two intersected slightly, but for all intents and purposes I functioned as two separate people depending on which household I was in during my youth. At my mom's house I was the center of attention, the only other living body (besides my cat). I had full access to all the amenities of my home, from the TV to the computer to the couch which I sprawled out on every weekend afternoon.

But when I went over to my dad's house I was a baby sister, subject to all the trials of little sibling-hood. My sister's room was virtually off-limits, and I would often vie for the computer but have my access cut off, forcing me to transfer over to the giant Dell PC that was about to fall apart.

We had our troubles, but in time I learned what a blessing having an older sister is, however disguised that blessing is at times. When you're battling over what CD to play in the car it doesn't seem much fun, but in retrospect it's one of those relationships you just can't help but think on with fondness.

The moral to the story is what I've told you already, but now I'm going to share with you some of my favorite anecdotal memories involving my big sister, Emily:

1. Clarissa Explains it All

For some reason this has become one of my favorite stories to tell not only about Emily, but about life in general. It's about the paradox of language and the silliness of childhood - which is what I focus on in a lot of my blogs now that I think about it.

It started out simply - I was sitting with my sister watching television. Ever the willing spectator, she had deigned to turn on Nickelodeon and sit through an episode of the TV show Clarissa Explains it All. I don't know if I was being a smart aleck at the time - though I doubt it - but once the show started (after the credits had already aired, I presume) I inquired, "What is this show called?"

My sister was frank and said to me without context, "Clarissa Explains it All." I was confused. I asked her again, "No, what is the show called?" She repeated, telling me Clarissa explained it all. "I don't want to wait for Clarissa to explain it, what is the show called?!" the little me asked.

I don't remember how this situation was resolved, though I imagine we went through a few more verses in the "Who's on First?" dialogue. I ended up eventually discovering that the show was in fact called Clarissa Explains it All and that was that.

2. "I don't like it, she does!"

Around the same time as the Clarissa debacle, I was going through a childhood crisis. The word "baby" had become an institution at school, representing all of the things that we, as seven or eight year olds, were not allowed to watch or do anymore.

Barney? He's for babies. Storybooks? They're for babies. Blue's Clues? It's for babies.

I protest now. But at the time I did not. To the little girl in my second grade class who proclaimed all of the media I enjoyed as infantile, I said this: "I only like them because my older sister does."

Throughout the rest of the year I continued under the pretense that I was far superior to my childish classmates. The only reason I liked Blue's Clues was because my older sister, who I was painting as a 19-year old with a penchant for watching Nick, Jr. (hello, that's me right now), watched it. If she didn't watch it, I certainly wouldn't.

12 years down the road, I watch Blue's Clues, Yo Gabba Gabba and other great kids' television with my sister just like I did when I was seven going on eight. But now I have the excuse of a baby niece. Not that I need excuses anymore, clearly.

3. Teach me how to draw - and then give me candy

In third grade, my sister surprised me by becoming the art docent of my and my best friend, Ashley's, classrooms. Every session she would come in and teach us something about visual art.

Though the experience of third grade was one of the worst of my life, having my older sister come in and teach the class was a highlight despite the otherwise inherent awfulness. Regular days in Ms. Labarber's class were spent ducking under my desk as the rest of the students in the class went crazy. My teacher would frequently leave the room, allowing some kids - like Shawn, the boy I incidentally had a crush on - to stand on their desks and rally the whole class into a terrible tizzy.

But when my sister came by, it was a different story altogether. Maybe it was the Jolly Rancher lollipops she handed out, or maybe it was just the fact that my sister is the coolest, but those moments in third grade were made all the better just by having her around.

4. Deep respect

One of my closest friendships in elementary school was with a girl named Ashley (if she reads this, then "hello!"). We often had sleepovers at my house and more often than not we were up to absolutely no good. We'd play the same repetitive games over and over, we'd bother my dad to take us out to buy junk food and we'd force my sister and her boyfriend (my now brother-in-law) to partake in our childish stupidity.

During one sleepover, I remember being in the dining room playing truth or dare with Ashley. Emily and Matt walked in and Ashley very politely (haha, sarcasm) dared them to kiss. After Ashley became downright insistent that they do what she suggested, my sister and her boyfriend pecked each other lightly.

And that's when I discovered how much respect I had for the two of them and their relationship.

Being older now, I realize that kisses aren't really like the one they had that evening. It was like something out of a 1950s sitcom, adorable and quaint, but not particularly romantic. And looking back at my childhood (and afterwards), I realize I never saw my sister and her now-husband do anything other than kiss just like that.

It's a silly thing to be happy about, but I feel like I've been able to maintain respect for both of them and their relationship because of their never being incredibly forward about it. I'm sure most people have at one point seen their sibling, should they be in a long-term relationship, being less appropriate than PG with their significant other. But I've never had that. And it's something that has colored my relationship with both Matt and Emily for the better.

5. I know nothing about fashion

When my sister got married, I was only 13 years old. I had braces, I wore glasses, I didn't wear make-up. Let's face it, I was a mess.

But one day, she invited me to come along with her to help her try on wedding dresses. At the store, she hopped into the dressing room, handing me her camera as I waited and wandered around the store. When she came out, she looked beautiful. I still remember seeing my sister in a wedding dress and thinking how very amazing it was to get to experience even just a small bit of her preparation when I was still so young.

When she asked me my opinion on the dress, though, I had little to offer. At the time, I was still shopping for T-shirts and wearing wrongly sized Levi's jeans. I didn't look good in my clothing, I didn't know anything about clothing and I certainly couldn't offer any constructive criticism on a wedding dress.

In the end, she snagged a great dress, a wonderful ceremony, a terrific husband and - a few years down the road - an adorable baby to wrap the whole thing up in a nice, neat, absolutely perfect package.

I may have loved going home to my mom's house at night as a child and getting to experience the loveliness of single childhood. Even now, when I go home to my dad on breaks from school I get to experience what it's like to have virtually unalienable privacy.

Yet I wouldn't trade my experiences as a younger sister for anything. Growing up alone has its perks, but having a sibling is irreplaceable. My mom always told me how jealous she was of me for having a sister. She had grown up an only child and had to shoulder the burdens of a tumultuous separation and divorce of her parents. Well, I had my troubles too, but I've always had my sister to fall back on. In the face of sadness, in conjunction with hope, in moments of happiness and anger, she's been there to help me through.

There is so much more I could share, and maybe another time I will, but for now I think it's better to just leave with an "I love you, big sister."

No comments:

Post a Comment