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Like a Second Parent

June 12, 2012

Back then, when it was just my Mom and me, things seemed simple – easy. But I didn’t know then, what I know now.

Even when my Mom married my step-dad, things were easy. Well, at least they seemed that way. Things only became more complicated as I grew older. But it wasn’t that things actually got more complicated with age; it was that, with each year of blowing out candles, I became less and less ignorant of the problems of life. And with the birth of my younger half-brother, I suddenly felt like I had to somehow, take care of the family. I felt like it was my responsibility to make things easier – easier for everyone.

As the older sibling, I was always expected to set an example for my younger brother. I was the one who had to be the best of the best, the one to show my brother “how it’s done”. I was the one who had to step aside when my brother needed something; I was the one who had to “forgive” my brother when we got into fights, even though he was the one that was wrong. “He’s young,” my parents would say, “he doesn’t know”. But the thing is, I expected him to know, because I felt like when I was his age, I knew.

I guess that’s why I occasionally catch myself saying to him, “Grow up. Act more mature!”. I expect him to be “more mature” because when I was his age, I was more mature; I expect him to be like how I was.

But that is so wrong – so so wrong in so so many ways. I had always known that it was wrong to demand such unfair things of him. But I had never grasp the severity of it until now – right now, as I’m typing this.

I, of all people, should know better. I hated and still hate that I have to act like the grownup. I hated that I actively forced myself to grow up. I hated that I was burdened with the feeling that I needed to make things easier and better for everyone. I hated that, growing up, I felt like I had to take care of my parents, instead of them having to take care of me. I hated, and still hate, that I always feel guilty when I’m out with my friends, and having fun, when my parents are working their day and life away. So now I ask myself, why would I ever wish that upon my brother?

Maybe it’s because I am very tired of having to carry this load on my back. I feel like Sisyphus, condemned eternally to roll this boulder up this hill, only to watch it roll back down – dripping with sweat, panting like a thirsty animal, rolling this boulder that gets bigger and heavier with every step that I take. The more energy that I put into pushing it upwards, the harder it falls back to the bottom of the hill.

So maybe that’s why I frequently say to my brother, “Grow up. Act more mature!”.

A couple of days ago, I was at my Mom’s store when a customer and her two boys walked in. One of the boys was noticeably older than the other – probably around six; the younger boy was probably around four. It was obvious that they were siblings and the woman they had come in with, was their mother. While observing them, I noticed that the older brother was very mature. In a way, he was a mini “parent” to his younger brother. His younger brother wanted to climb up onto the stool, he helped him. His younger brother kept fidgeting on the stool, he told him to stop or else he would fall. When their mother called out to them and told them that it was time to go, the younger brother lingered on the stool and refused to leave. “C’mon, let’s go! It’s time to go!” the older brother said to the younger one. With one eye on his “already-moving-towards-the-door” mother, and the other eye on the problem at hand, the older brother tugged at his younger brother’s hips, and tried to help him down. “No! I want to do it myself!” the younger one exclaimed. So he twisted his body this way and that, and tried to climb down the stool. His older brother held out his hands to help him. The mother walked away and the older brother followed suit. But of course, he made sure to turn around and tell his brother to hurry along.

Seeing all of this made me realize how much we “older siblings” have in common. When our parents are busy, we step in and take their place. Sometimes, we’re not very good at the job. In fact, if it was a “real” job, we would have been fired by now. (If it was a “real” job, I would have given my two-weeks notice by now.) But despite all of the drama, jealousy, and envy, we really do want what’s best for our younger siblings. And try as we might, we may never be able to make them understand that.

Yesterday, my brother and I got into a huge fight. I became so frustrated that I started crying. He saw that I was crying, but I didn’t know if he was secretly expressing sympathy. I wanted to make him understand how hard it was for me growing up. I wanted him to know that I understand what he’s going through too, because I had gone through it myself. Growing up in a household with high expectations is rough, but you learn to cope with it, and in the end, you’ll come out okay, maybe even happy. I wanted him to have an epiphany – to come to the sudden realization that we just want the best for him. But how are we to convey this when he is a preteen who probably thinks that life could not get possibly worse?

The most important message to get across was: I hated fighting with him.

It’s amazing how different siblings can be, most of it, I would accredit, not to nature, but to nurture. Being the oldest sibling, I never had the problem of having to live in someone else’s shadow. But something just occurred to me. Isn’t it strange, how when you are younger, all you want to do is be exactly like your older sibling – hence the phrase, “stop copying me!” – but as you grow older, all you want to do is pave for yourself, a completely different pathway than that of your older sibling’s? Just a thought.

But anyway, who’s to say that I am a good sister? When I was ten, I was left alone on a jungle gym playground with my then, two-year-old brother while my Dad played tennis with my uncle in the court right next to us. Somehow, by the end of the day, my brother’s head was filled with sand, and a pile of his poop was lying fresh on the jungle gym.

Have you ever gotten sand dumped onto your head? Trust me, even then, I knew it was hard to get out.

Michael and Me (age 8), at the hospital.

[Want to read an interesting article on what your birth-order says about you? Click here!]

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