Even when they are moments away from breaking in to a Jets vs Sharks showndown in the living room, I can see it in Emma’s eyes. As they are in a tug of war over the Nintendo DS, Emma has that look. When they play house, or dolls, or school together, it is definitely there. When Emma is trying to beat Hannah in a foot race. That look every younger sibling has for their older sibling. Emma is three years Hannah’s junior and tries every day to close that gap. She wants to do the same things Hannah does (and doesn’t understand why she can’t). When Hannah isn’t home, Emma is lost. When Hannah has friends over, Emma can be spotted not far behind, tagging along. I see that look Emma has in her eyes when Hannah is reading her a book or “teaching” her math. I can see it in her eyes because I have the same look at my sister.
I’m three years junior to my sister. From the moment I got that look in my eye, I have worked to close that gap. I have been the tag along. I have been lost when my big sister wasn’t around. I have voluntarily been my sister’s very own crash test dummy.
My big sister showed me how to go up the steps and then told on me for going up the steps. She taught me how to ride a bike (by taking off my training wheels and shoving me in the back down the sidewalk). I helped her win a bet by swallowing a worm (I don’t remember sharing in the winnings). I played Barbie dolls when I wanted to play G.I. Joes and Transformers. I played doctor (actually I played the patient) and took my medicine, which was Scope…that I had to swallow or else get punched. I got in slap fights with her and lost. Making both of us laugh got both of us in trouble at the dinner table. It wasn’t until I was a teenager did I truly believe I wasn’t adopted like my sister told me I was. According to my sister, second child is just first loser. And I was lost when she wasn’t around.
My big sister saved me from social embarrassment by keeping me updated on what was “cool” and what was not (everything in my closet apparently). She helped me when I didn’t know what to do or say to an angry high school girlfriend. She took me back and forth from college (and always gave me $20 when she did). She was the one who told me our father would be going in to rehab (and who I held after finding out until my arms were weak). She has bought birthday, anniversary, and Christmas presents for people and put both our names on them for years. She was the first one I grabbed after our father died and held her again until my arms were weak and my eyes couldn’t cry anymore. She was the one who told me it was now my turn to be the “man” of our family and she would be there to make sure I do it right. She has given me a niece (and goddaughter) and nephew that I hold as close to me as my own kids. She is the first one I call when I need an answer to anything (and she answers at anytime, day or night). She calls on snowy days to make sure I got to work safely. She is the one that I would give life and limb for. She is the one, if she asked, I would eat another worm for. And I would be lost if she wouldn’t be around.
So when Emma is punching, pushing, or yelling, or crying to Hannah, I want to tell her I understand (right after I punish her for punching, pushing, yelling, or crying to Hannah). I want to tell her that it will get better. That at some point you won’t be a tag along. You won’t have to eat too many worms (but won’t mind so long as she gets to win a bet), you’ll be thankful she took your training wheels off and pushed you down the sidewalk (and no…you were not adopted). I want to tell Emma that it is all apart of growing up as the younger sibling. Like a rite of passage or a Fraternity Hell Week that goes on for most of your young life. But I want to tell her that it is all worth it because when you need $20, or a car ride back to school, or advice, or someone to lean on, or someone to hold on to when you are scared or hurt or lost until your arms are weak, or when you need a best friend, just like me, she’ll have her big sister.