My first memory of my sister is not actually of her, but of a doll I was given when they brought her home from the hospital for the first time.
I wasn’t yet three years old, but I was already fairly well established in my role as head of the household, and probably more than a little uneasy about the idea of this tiny pink screaming creature coming in and drowning me out. I don’t remember those first few years, other than from photos I’ve seen of me (looking annoyed) with my (equally irritated) baby sister on my knee, but I remember the doll. That was intended to be my baby, to let me copy my mother when she was occupied with essential newborn tasks like feeding and changing and bathing the baby.
It was a nice idea, but I don’t think it worked. My mother always reports her enduring memory of me watching her feeding my sister. She says I just sat there in silence, staring at her with big, sad eyes. Not a great start!
So, no, I didn’t take to her immediately… but she grew on me after a year or two. When she learned to talk and walk, she was a lot more fun, and I realised that she was a ready-made playmate! I think I was lucky. Not many of my classmates were friends with their siblings; in fact, many spoke of them with scorn, annoyance, and downright hatred in some cases.
The Sister and I had our moments, sure. We bickered, but we never actually fought, and we never really fell out. For the most part, we were friends.
Every day in the holidays, we’d watch our favourite TV shows together in the morning, and then head outside to play. We built dens and tents and houses out of whatever was to hand, from cardboard boxes to blankets and a clothes line. We played elaborate “Let’s pretend…” games, using costumes, or toys, or just our imaginations. We set up a newspaper office in a clothes horse tent, and I wrote some “articles” in sprawling kiddie handwriting while The Sister cut and glued and coloured the illustrations. We spent whole days playing with our Sylvanian families and Barbie dolls and Smooshies and My Little Ponies, acting out stories with them and sending them on grand adventures.
We made other friends, of course, but we shared even those. They came to our house and we played outside in the yard or the lane, racing on bikes and building go-karts out of skateboards, making mud pies and building ladybird sanctuaries in biscuit tins, splashing around all day in the paddling pool in summer, having water fights with the neighbours, climbing trees, flying homemade kites, dressing up our eternally patient cat. We borrowed Mum’s camcorder and made videos of ourselves singing our favourite songs, acting out stories, presenting TV shows, and making adverts.
I looked after my little sister as best I could, on occasion failing spectacularly and delivering her back to Mum in floods of tears, with blood pouring from an injury. I was always scared I’d get into trouble for not looking after her well enough, but more than that, I was upset because she was hurt. The time she fell and bust open her chin will be forever engrained in my memory, because I truly thought that was the end. I’d never seen so much blood, and I was shaking as I ran round to get the nurse from a few doors down while my mum tried to stem the flow of blood. I remember asking the nurse, terrified, if my sister was going to be OK. I wasn’t to know that a cut on the chin doesn’t necessarily mean certain death. All I knew was that my little sister was hurt, and there was blood everywhere, and I didn’t want her to die.
Thankfully, she didn’t, and we went on to make many more memories together. We got pet rabbits and discovered that they really enjoyed the country and western song Delta Dawn, so we sang it to them all the time. It made sense at the time. We fell in love with Take That, and spent hours creating dance routines to their songs and watching videos of their concerts together.
Then we chose our own paths. I became a nerd, who loved sci-fi and computers and books. The Sister became the cool one, who loved clothes and music and socialising. And yet we remained friends. She was the younger sibling, but she became the one who looked after me, from that point. When I was picked on, she stood up for me. When I was sad because someone had made fun of my clothes, she helped me to pick out something better. She still helps me with things like that, to this day, as she knows I’m clueless and need her advice! It was The Sister who helped me dress up and make-up for my first nights out, and who showed me how to mingle and talk to people instead of hiding nervously in a corner. We went out every Friday night, discovering vodka and Red Bull (ah, to be young again…), dancing, and men. We got ready together, with cheap drinks and loud music and shared make-up and clothes. We even shared a house again, years after leaving home, and to this day she is the only person I have ever comfortably lived with, without any arguments or irritation.
I don’t get to see my sister as often as I’d like, but every time I go home, our friendship remains the same. We have fun together, and we can be honest with each other. We can sit in comfortable silence, or we can talk all night. As rubbish as I may be at staying in touch regularly, and however long we go without talking, I know my sister and I will never drift apart. We’ve been friends since she could talk, after all, and we grew up together, side by side.
So today, although I can’t be there to have birthday drinks with her in person, I say a heartfelt “happy birthday!” to my sister on her 30th birthday. I love you, wee sis, and we will have a belated 30th celebration next time I’m home! Thank you for being one of my favourite people in the whole world.
Have a brilliant birthday – you deserve it.