I had the gum in my hand, and I had earned it. It was not easy to reach that shelf. Not at all. Ready to go, I started to trot toward the door when Mom caught me by my upper arm with one hand (not for the first or last time, mind you).
“If we don’t pay for it, we have to put it back,” she said.
“Am I paid for?” I asked, eying our cart with all of our stuff in it.
Mom smiled. “Yes. You’re paid for.”
I saw hope. “Let’s not pay for Sisa.”
“Sisa” was my little sister, and I never once asked for one. Parents ought to take this into account before procreating a second time. Once she passed the biting phase, though, I started to like her.
True, I still wasn’t happy about some things, like when in preschool she’d slip into my bed after a nightmare, pee, climb out, change all of her clothes, drop them on the floor, and then climb back into her own dry bed. But when life hands you a younger sibling, it hands you other things as well: someone who loves you no matter what, who thinks you are the smartest and the best, and who is small enough to be bossed around from time to time. And life throws in some extra lessons—learning to share, to listen, to be fair, to compromise—not quite free of charge.
We were as likely to hit one another as play together. In fact, hitting one another was playing together. But in our whirlwind bouts, twirling in a tug of war over the best dress-up skirt as one dog barked encouragement and the other dog alternately took sides (and ripped the ruffle off the skirt in the process), there was something reassuring about the pair of fierce eyes I locked onto. I knew that the anger was momentary. The skirt would eventually be worn by one of us—or destroyed by the dog. In a minute, though, those eyes would be giggling, and we would be happy once more.
In our teens, I found a new benefit. My “little” sister was a hair bigger than me. While we shared almost everything, anything of hers that I really wanted could be made truly mine by running it through the dryer once on high. But even then, she didn’t stay angry forever. No. Instead, her hair-bigger feet stretched out my slightly smaller shoes so that they were truly hers.
Still, we were together. There was always a hand to hold, a butt to share a bus seat, a shoulder to cry on, and lips to give advice—wanted or not.
We grew apart after high school but grew back together after the births of our first children just four months apart. As we have faced the heartache of seeing those boys face mental health diagnoses, outpatient therapies, school issues, health issues—the list goes on and on—I found such strength in her voice over the phone, her hugs in person, and her laughter over the truly ridiculous trials of life.
“Do you realize you talked to your sister for 800 minutes last month?” my father asked as we were comparing our cell phone usage.
Sounds like a good investment to me.