Growing up, I was the Good Big Sister – at least that’s how my parents perceived me. My siblings probably always disagreed.
I was the oldest child. One brother was just 17 months younger than me. When he was first born, I gave a good impression of a Good Big Sister, which may have been how the myth began.
But I have early memories of wanting to love this baby brother to pieces. And it is recorded for all time that I pushed him over on film when he could barely sit.
Two other siblings were born much later.
My only sister came along when I was eight-and-a-half. When my sister was an infant, she had terrible separation anxiety when my parents went out. She refused to let any hired babysitter play with her or feed her. So even though my parents were paying a very nice teenage girl to babysit us, I did everything for my sister on those weekend evenings, except change her diaper. (I wasn’t getting paid, and saw no reason to take on that chore, even to keep my sister from crying. So I wasn’t really a Good Big Sister.)
When I was ten or eleven, my parents made me the official family babysitter. To my sister’s regret, I’m sure. The age difference between us was not enough for her to see me as a person in authority once she became a toddler. Only my size kept me in control, which further detracts from my reputation as a Good Big Sister.
Then my youngest sibling was born when I was eleven-and-a-half (another brother). Maybe the additional three years of maturity gave me more authority, because I don’t remember as many battles with him as with my sister.
But once again, I wasn’t really a Good Big Sister. I dropped this brother on his head on our concrete front porch when he was about six months old when he arched his back and flew right out of my arms. I worried for years that this fall might have injured his brain. My fear lasted until he was old enough to memorize all the episodes of The Brady Bunch, but I don’t think I confessed I had dropped him until after he was married.
My mother preferred having the kids out of her hair to having help in the kitchen. So while she cooked and did the dishes, I took care of the younger kids. She must have thought I was a Good Big Sister, but in reality, I wasn’t. I was probably an Average Big Sister – often annoyed at having the younger ones around, wanting them to do what I said without the maturity to figure out how to persuade them.
But we all survived.
I enjoyed our family vacation together in Oregon last month. There were twelve of us – my husband and me, my sister and most of her family, my youngest brother and his family, my father, and my daughter. There were enough activities during the week that we all spent time in smaller groups hiking and rafting and hanging out at the pool. We lived together for a week, and got along fine.
These siblings and I have done well in our adult years. Our children – who now range from 31 to almost 8 – are doing well in a variety of age-appropriate ways also. During our week’s vacation, my siblings and I talked about our children and perpetuated family myths about them – which ones were Dreamers, and which were Sweet, which were Hardworking, and which were Neat. There might even be a Good Big (or Little) Sister (or Brother) in the mix.
By definition, myths are not true, though they may contain “truthiness.” Each of our children will determine what labels to put on his or her own life, regardless of family myth, just as we did and the generations before us did.
As our children grow, they will expand beyond the family’s perception and into their own truth. Just as I – and my family – now recognize that I am no longer (if I ever was) the Good Big Sister.
What family myths – true or false – have been assigned to you? What truths have you discerned for yourself?