I am the quintessential big sister. The oldest of four, I am pushy and nosey and bossy and quick to point out how things should be done. I am a quick draw with the planning and organization six shooters and I wear my gun belt with pride.
No one points out to the oldest child that they are in charge, they just are. They're born that way. I'm sure I popped out of the womb with a list pad and a pencil and immediately began taking inventory of my surroundings and probably had a play group planned by the end of the first week.
While on vacation this summer with my family, my mother, my sister and her family we all got to musing about our childhood. My mother remarked, referring to me, "Well, I couldn't legitimately put you in charge of your sister because you were barely two years older, but by the time your brothers were born I definitely expected and depended on you to tend to the flock." And there it was… my marching orders from an early age. I hadn't imagined it, or cast myself in the role of supreme commander; someone else had done it for me. I was off the hook! See? Mom MADE me do it! Ha!
And yet, being in charge isn't all it is cracked up to be. Most of the time no one listened (all that nagging), and then I was stuck with two unenviable choices; doing it myself or getting in trouble. Because oldest children are also born pleasers, you can guess which route I chose. As it turns out, oldest children are mostly bluff and bluster anyway, and deep down we are very sensitive and just want everyone to like us, which doesn't happen because we HAVE to be bossy to get things done. Woe is the oldest child.
Little sisters, on the other hand, have the best of both worlds. From a big sister's vantage, they don't have nearly the responsibility and they always have an out with "I'm the LITTLE sister." And yet, little sisters reap the windfall. They are clever and quick, they see things coming, they learn from the mistakes of others and they weave a shorter path to their destinations as a result. They don't belabor the point. They don't have to explain. They are free birds flying low under the radar.
These roles my sister and I played as children lasted well into our teens, until we'd both gone to college and began living our lives for ourselves. But as we continued to age the lines got blurry. Older? Younger? Wiser? My sister is braver, more creative, and more sensitive to others. She's a deeper thinker. I'm more outgoing, more social, and more obsessive. And we both have our challenges. As the seasons change so too have our roles. I need her advice, she needs mine. I need the "stiff upper lip lecture", she needs the "let go and trust the universe" lecture. It is symbiosis at it's finest, both flowers nurtured in the same soil and sharing the same sun, we are better, together, at attracting bees and raindrops, even when the together is symbolic because of our thousand mile separation.
I got to see this mirrored in action with my sister's girls while we were together this summer. Five and seven they are as different as the moon and sun, most likely, as my sister and I once were. The oldest plows her way through the day, getting to be first, but also being the first to take the bumps. In the garden of life, she is like a giant sunflower, bright and bouncy, impossible to overlook, her petals wide open to possibility, but dropping seeds in her wake. The youngest is more of an orchid. Quiet and shy, seemingly delicate yet surprisingly stalwart, she waits for her time to bloom and then surprises everyone with her intricacy and tenacity.
"Mommy, why, if Auntie is older than you are, is she shorter?" Her youngest daughter asked last week. "Well," said my sister "sometimes that's the way it goes, and really it doesn't matter who is taller or shorter. Even when she is 102 I'll still be younger, but I'll be 100 and that will make us both just really really old."
I hope we live to be 100 together. Little old ladies in rocking chairs on a sunny porch somewhere, staring out at the sea, rendered as indistinguishable as twins then by our wrinkles, sisters by birth and friends for life.