html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: I would pay it twice over.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I would pay it twice over.

Written on my trip:

Ma cousine has two step-daughters, almost six and nine. They are lovely, bright-eyed, sharp, energetic. The younger is something of a force. Last night she came out of her room, late. She cuddled in my lap, then told me in the saddest little voice that she was hungry. I felt terrible for that neglected little girl, so I let her lead me to the kitchen, where she mentioned that a bonbon would be just the thing, so maybe I could reach them down for her? Cookies would be fine, too. Now, I am an American rube, hopelessly naïve and eternally optimistic. I don’t pretend that I can match the sophistication of Old World guile, honed by centuries of Machiavellian politicking. But neither did I arrive in the last rain (as we say here in France), and I know that the answer to “can I have a late night cookie?” is “what would your papa say?” He did in fact come collect her shortly after that, and the last thing I heard as they walked back to her room was “we eat at the table.”

She is a relentless pest to her older sister. She puts her hands in her sister’s face, close as she can get without touching. She snuck into the bathroom while her sister showered, stole her pajamas, turned out the light and held the door closed from the outside. She provokes her sister into fighting, then runs to a grown-up for protection. Her technique is most excellent; I haven’t seen such a proficient and ferocious pest since I left Oakland. My sister doesn’t use her skills much anymore, but in her day, she was as good as any younger sister who ever lived. It was my sister’s great misfortune that I was born boring. I didn’t want to mess with my sister, pick on her or start fights. I just wanted to read and I was happy to read all the time. She says it made her crazy to watch me, just sitting there, reading some more, so BORING. Well, she could fix that.

The goal, of course, is the inarticulate howl of rage just before the charge. That sweet sound is the whole reward. The skill lies in how quickly you can get the older sibling to the howl. My sister still savors it, although indirectly. Watching on the playground, she’ll hear the cry go up and nod to herself. “That was a good one.” It is dangerous sustenance, followed as it is by a raging older sister. But when that is the music your soul feeds on, you get right up to the edge of violence and then you dance.

It isn’t easy, being the oldest. Some things come easy, like being most loved by your parents and the smartest and prettiest. That’s just natural. But having younger siblings makes life hard. There’s the fact that you get blamed for fights even when they totally started it*. Younger siblings can tell when your parents hold you responsible for whether all the chores got done, and they slink off, leaving the kitchen counters unwiped, even though that is their job and they know it. There’s the part about they get to tag along with you and be friends with your friends, but it doesn’t work the other way ‘cause who wants to hang out with a bunch of kids? There’s the terrible day when your parents tell you that if you want to keep doing tkd, you can never hit your sister again. Worse, they also told her. Mostly, there is the ceaseless, constant pestiness. The pestiness that never ends. Being pestered. For years and years.

There is consolation for the years of looking after and suffering from your younger siblings. They grow into interesting people, who do not steal the book you’re reading and run hell for leather to the bathroom, slam and lock the door between you and your book. If you’re lucky, she’ll become the essential invincible friend, the one who will stand by you no matter what happens, because you are sisters and you can’t ever not be sisters. That goes both ways, for youngers and olders, but if life works the way it should, you get one final benefit from being the oldest. If you are the oldest, you should die first, and you will never have to live in a world with no parents and no siblings. You will not be left in a world where no one remembers your childhood and that your parents were beautiful and where you used to play. If you are the oldest, you should not have to be alone in a world where your past left first. The thought of a world without my sisters and brother is so terrible to me that I’m not sure how you onlies make it through your days, but if nature works as it should, I’ll never have to face that. I can hope for that, knowing that it was worth every bit of extra responsibility and the endless torment of pestiness.






*You can check whether a woman has a younger sister by looking at her forearms. Turn her forearms up and check for a set of crescent-shaped scars that would fit a little hand. That’s where the vicious little brutes set their nails and gouge, drawing blood. They aren’t as innocent as they look. Do not be fooled by the big eyes.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Mitch said...

She cuddled in my lap, then told me in the saddest little voice that she was hungry. I felt terrible for that neglected little girl, so I let her lead me to the kitchen, where she mentioned that a bonbon would be just the thing, so maybe I could reach them down for her? Cookies would be fine, too.


Hmmm, do you think that would work if I did it?

11:51 AM  
Anonymous jms said...

Oh, please. Do you know what's easy? Being an older sister. Getting to do everything first, and bragging all the time about being faster, stronger, and better at times tables, even though it's obviously only because she's older, and the younger is doing just as well, if not better than the older did at her age.
As for pestiness! You know what is so much worse than being pesty? Being bossy. And a know-it-all. And a tease. And mean! And the silent treatment. Pestiness is the only meager weapon of the defenceless and downtrodden.

And this!
"You can check whether a woman has a younger sister by looking at her forearms. Turn her forearms up and check for a set of crescent-shaped scars that would fit a little hand."
Is so unfair! Do you know what I have on my forearm RIGHT NOW? A thin silvery scar, about four inches long, from when an older sister, one of the members of that wicked, wicked tribe, scratched me with her fingernail, lo these twenty-five years ago.* When I point it out to people, they say they can't see it, but I can. I can even feel it sometimes, a lingering ghost pain, when it is cold or I am sick or a certain someone calls me up and even now, at thirty-three years of age, cannot resist TELLING ME WHAT TO DO, or SAYING I TOLD YOU SO, or gets that certain scolding tone in her voice, OH YES, YOU KNOW THE ONE, I KNOW YOU DO.

*I scratched her first, but THAT'S NOT THE POINT.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It isn’t easy, being the oldest. Some things come easy, like being most loved by your parents and the smartest and prettiest. That’s just natural. But having younger siblings makes life hard. There’s the fact that you get blamed for fights even when they totally started it*. Younger siblings can tell when your parents hold you responsible for whether all the chores got done, and they slink off, leaving the kitchen counters unwiped, even though that is their job and they know it."

That is the most perfect description of my entire life before going to college I have ever read. Yes, I do have some younger siblings. Three or four, I think, maybe more. Who can keep track of these things?

--Thelonious_Nick

5:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a younger sister (and older one, to a brother), hilarious post.

You of course miss the mark. JMS makes some incredibly wise comments to all you bossy second mothers we don't want or need and why can't you just have fun with us and not get all worked up with what your parents might think (you priss!). I recall several conversations where I specifically had to cut my older sister off saying "I do not want advice right now. Please, just commiserate for once without offering your suggestions. PLEASE."

My scar is on my head, where I was chased into a night table and required stitches. And of course I can't remember why I was being chased. I probably just wanted some attention. Sigh, middle child, sigh.

And as for those chores: you never had the balls to just walk away. Had to please them, still do.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Some things come easy, like being most loved by your parents and the smartest and prettiest."

Except of course that's not true. You're a bit too simple to ever be loved that much. Appreciated, sure, but loved the most? A dubious claim.

Smartest is also in question. Does it count if you also try the hardest?

I can't speak to prettiest. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

8:29 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Oh jms and A8:24, you just don't understand. (shaking head) Silly little things.

T_N, he understands. He's wise.

8:42 AM  
Anonymous doctorpat said...

That fingernail mark on the arm thing also applies to identify older brothers.

7:07 PM  

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