Sometime in 8th grade I went to the store with my mom and my youngest sister, AJ. I remember people watching the three of us walking through the store with quizzical looks. They would look first at my mom, then to me, then to AJ, then back to me. Finally, as we made our way through the checkout, the cashier looked at me and said “Your daughter is so cute,” then back to my mother and finished “You are a lucky grandma!” I stared, my 14-year-old self feeling completely embarrassed and horrified, as my mom calmly answered, “Actually, I’m the mom. They are both mine.”
It wasn’t the last time we would get comments like this, and when people were really feeling nosey, they would add comments like “Oh. Second marriage?” My mom, always collected, would respond with a smile and explain that we were in fact from the same mother and father. People always looked confused. In their defense, they were missing some pieces.
I’m the oldest of five children. I have two brothers, G (who is a year and a half younger than me) and M (five years younger); and two sisters, MJ (eleven years younger) and AJ (thirteen years younger). Even when my whole family is together people look really confused. In some ways I understand their confusion. Big families are something of an oddity nowadays. I use this word loosely — we are big compared to many mainstream families, but I know plenty of larger famillies.
I used to be really annoyed that I was the oldest of so many. It meant having to sacrifice Friday nights to babysit my younger sisters. It meant having to plan family vacations around the expectations of a five-year-old rather than an eighteen-year-old. When we all went to Disney World in my junior year of high school we spent a lot of time waiting in line for the teacups or to meet the princesses when all I really wanted to do was go on Tower of Terror. I always felt like I was last on the priority list.
Now, however, I realize the value of my experience. In April I gave birth to my first child, a boy named Nathan Malcolm. I then understood what a great opportunity my childhood had been. Taking care of my son seemed like second nature. I knew exactly how to bathe him. I knew how often to feed him. I knew how to dress him, when to start feeding him solid food, when he should start smiling, even how to get him to fart when I knew he had a stomach ache.
I didn’t worry when he got fussy, I just tried one thing at a time to calm him down. First a diaper change, then a bath, a walk, a song, a feeding. I realized that even though he was my first child, I was by no means a first time mom. It didn’t register right away how quickly I had fallen into my new momma role. It wasn’t until my husband expressed how difficult the transition had been for him. I told him that I thought it had been quite easy and he said “but you’ve had so much practice!” He was right. I wasn’t really new at it.
Even more wonderful is the fact that M, MJ, and AJ are now 17, 11, and 9 respectively and have been a huge help with Nathan. I love that my sisters now have the same chance that I had to be around a much younger child, to learn the way I did. Even more, I love the fact that M loves to show my son off to all of his friends and, even better, that his friends make a point to come visit Nathan.
Being a sister has most certainly prepared me to be a better mother. And the best part? Now I get to be both!