How being an older sister helped prepare me for motherhood
I had the sort of childhood that creates writers; I grew up in a small-town trailer park, and would often strike out on my bike after a particularly nasty fight between my parents to write down everything I saw in a little red notebook. It was a way for me to exorcise some demons and forget for a moment that I was a quiet, awkward kid whose best friend lived several miles away. I longed for a little sister, someone I could keep secrets with who would always be around when I needed comfort or just to play. I wanted inside jokes! Underwater tea parties in the swimming pool! Fights over who got to play with the best Barbie (the one with the glow-in-the-dark ball gown, obviously)! My parents had other ideas, though, and when they divorced I moved to a bigger, neighboring town with my mom and gave up all hopes of ever getting a sibling.
I have to credit my parents; their marriage was a messy, complicated hell that left all parties involved emotionally damaged, but once they divorced they were great. They were both much more civil to one another than they had ever been, and when they each found someone else they managed to be supportive. My mother and stepmother happened to already be acquainted through mutual friends, and while my father and stepdad wouldn’t be taking any fishing trips together, they were cordial. Still, I never seriously entertained the idea of getting a little half-brother or sister — my father was getting older and, to be honest, hadn’t seemed too big on the whole dad thing with me. Color me shocked, then, when my mom and stepmom announced they were pregnant at the same time.
A week before my 13th birthday, I got my first sister — my dad and stepmom’s daughter — and, two months later, my mom gave birth to another baby girl. I loved them both immediately and furiously. It was as though a dormant mother-gene had whirred into life; I would hold them and marvel at their tiny features and imagine all the awful things I’d need to protect them from. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was almost like a precursor to motherhood. When we see a baby we love and are connected to, we are the happiest we’ve ever been, but the other side of that coin is the constant worry that they will be hurt or taken from us.
Since I lived full-time with my mom and stepdad, my sister Emily and I grew very close. There were times (mostly when she fell asleep on the couch and I carried her to bed during my babysitting nights) when I felt like a second mom to her; there were also times when we were just sisters. Right when I was getting into the Riot Grrrl movement, figuring out who I was, and rebelling for the chance to take up space, Emily was going through the Terrible Threes. She would lay outside my bedroom and kick the door with her feet, demanding to be let in. Sometimes, at the suggestion of my mom, I would let her in, and we’d hang out together. That was the beginning of her education on Hole and Bikini Kill.
Being so much older than my siblings (I got a brother when I was 15) was a blessing and a curse at times, depending on the day. It wasn’t quite what I had imagined as a kid, but I did learn plenty about children, which came in handy when I had my own. In many ways it made me more responsible, and I understood the delicate art of communicating with a 3-year-old who hasn’t had a nap and REALLY wants to use that pink cup you just put in the dishwasher. We weren’t fighting over Barbies or sharing secrets, but we always had fun (still do, as evidenced by a recent dance party in our parents’ kitchen during Christmas Cookie Fest). My sisters are now in their 20’s, and every time I look at them I see the toddlers they used to be, teaching me patience and how to get over myself when all I wanted was to be cool.