What it's like to have a brand new sister when you're 24
When my dad told me I was going to have a new sister, I went into shock for about three days. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to react. Do I jump for joy? Do I worry about my father’s financials? Do I gossip with my aunts about my father’s girlfriend?
(Full disclosure: I did all of these things.)
For months, from when my dad told me in February until my baby sister was born this past September, I was a ball of emotions. I was excited. I was absolutely furious. I was dumbfounded. And for a while, I was probably not the nicest person in the world to my father’s girlfriend. I was so mad at her for throwing my dad, brother and I the biggest curveball of our lives.
I ranted to friends about how crazy this whole thing was, and I’m sure they got sick of me talking about it constantly. My mom, aunts, and other family members joked about it, laughing about how my dad would be nearly 70 when my new sibling would be finishing high school.
I tried to get excited for her arrival, even considered throwing a baby shower for my dad’s girlfriend but I let my fairly busy schedule get in the way and missed the shower her mother threw for her. I bought my baby sister presents, but being unsure what to get, I picked out an outfit that wouldn’t fit her during the right season – a sleeveless dress that would most likely only fit her during the winter months– and a pair of books that she won’t be interested in until she’s a toddler.
For months, I was confused who I’d be to this new tiny human about to enter the world. I couldn’t be the cool aunt, but yet, how would I explain to strangers at the mall, old college friends, or new acquaintances that I was her sister, not her mother? I spent several nights scouring the Internet looking for similar situations, for how I was supposed to act as the new big sister, only everything I discovered was meant for toddlers and their reactions to bring a new sibling into their delicate routine.
Anytime I’d be around my dad and his side of the family, the general emotion was excitement, with my grandparents displaying the bulk of that. They were thrilled for a new grandchild since my youngest cousin had just turned seven. Everyone was looking forward to having another baby in the family. My grandmother was giddy over the idea of my brother and I, who both have birthdays in September and only two days apart, of sharing a birthday with my new sibling.
I despised that idea. Growing up, I hated sharing a birthday week with my brother. Our birthdays always fell just around Labor Day and I hated sharing the spotlight with him. My cousin said at a family gathering just before my sister was born, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if she was born on the 6th so your birthdays would go 5-6-7?” “No,” I said. “It wouldn’t be awesome.”
That’s when I realized: I was jealous. I was so mad at this baby that I hadn’t even met because I felt like it was stealing my dad away from me.
I moved away from my dad when I was young due to my parents’ divorce. No matter how much time I spent with him when I was free to, going to his house instead of my mom’s during college and spending Christmas Eves with my dad’s side over my mom’s, I couldn’t make up for the time I lost with my dad in my middle and high school years. For a long time, all I wanted was to relive my favorite childhood memories with my father, who stayed home with us during the summers while Mom went to work. I was angry with my new baby sister solely for the fact that she would get to completely grow up with my dad, while I only had gotten him on Wednesday nights, every other weekend and three weeks during summers. This realization made me reconsider everything.
My birthday came and went and my baby sister still had yet to make an appearance. My brother and I were safe from sharing birthdays with her (though looking back, I realize how cool and fun it would’ve been). Dad’s girlfriend went so far past her due date, the doctor decided to induce labor.
When the day came, my boss let me take a half-day of work to go see her in the hospital, only to find out she was still hours from making her entrance. I stayed with my dad and his girlfriend through the evening and ended up sleeping on the very uncomfortable couch in the hospital room in a very uncomfortable slouched position. The next morning, Dad’s girlfriend was taken for a C-section and I waited behind in the hospital room.
Eventually my dad walked in, holding my sister, rocking and shushing her to calm her down. The nurse came in, weighed and measured her, gave her a quick rinse in the sink, took her footprints and all that stuff they do to babies as soon as they’re born. She was screaming the entire time, turning bright red and crying so hard, she started coughing. Little did I know that screaming would become my sister’s signature. (Of course I know crying is a thing all babies do, but my sassy little sister has a mind of her own and a sense of determination I’ve never seen in any other baby.)
I held her the second the nurse was done. I sent pictures of her to my brother, who was busy training soldiers in the Army, and we both joked about being two decades older than our sister.Ysabel is nearly eight months old now. For the first few months, I was at my dad’s every chance I had, cuddling and rocking her, teaching her songs and introducing her to football and playoff baseball. I missed her first Christmas to spend the holidays with my boyfriend’s family. I still feel an immense amount of guilt over that.
Being an adult sucks. It means jobs and responsibilities. I moved away five months ago and I never thought I could miss someone so much. FaceTime has helped. When she’s in a good mood, Dad will call and she’ll put her little lips to the screen when I ask for kisses.
Over Easter, I splurged and spent way more than I should’ve on an intern’s salary and bought a ticket home. I was home for just a day and a half, but seeing her giant cheeks and her toothless smile, feeding her lemons and hearing her little chuckle made me happier than I had been in months.
I was three when my younger brother was born and I don’t remember my life without him. He’s one of my best friends. In these months since Ysabel arrived, I’ve come to terms with growing up and letting go. Letting go of the anger I initially felt, towards both my sister and her mother, letting go of the gaps from middle school and high school and letting go of my naïveté. And I know I won’t be there for her first steps and I may not be there for her first words either. But being the cool, much older sister, no matter where I am, is the ultimate goal. It’s time to make amends for how I acted over the idea of her, even if she wasn’t even here for it.
I’m already planning on making the trip home for our birthdays and making her the biggest, messiest smash cake a little girl could ever want.