My oldest sibling is seventeen years older than me; my youngest siblings (twins) are sixteen years younger. In between these, I also have a brother twelve years older and a brother twelve years younger. The only planning objective (and accusations) I can extrapolate from this, therefore, might be that perhaps I was meant to be grossly isolated.
Every relationship someone has with their brother or sister is no doubt fundamentally similar to the next person’s in many ways. There exists a love, surely. Question, then. Is this love most noticeable, say, in the relationship between a young child and a teenage sibling, where the teenager must succumb to a new truth? To the inevitable truth that, despite the upcoming imbroglios of life, such as examinations for colleges and universities, the advancement of puberty and the growth into adulthood (albeit a growth which is stagnated by bouts of irrationality through the basic, heretofore inchoate understanding of patience with regards to being their parents’ priority), they are now shelved into second place as far as their basic needs are concerned? As human beings, we tend to reach stages in our lives which we are wholly unprepared for, not to mention unaware of. Puberty, for example. The sudden interest in other boys or girls, singling one out for reasons consciously unknown. What is this, where has it come from? All of a sudden everything begins to become so very overwhelming. The tones of teachers seem to unexpectedly shift, sounding condescending at best, pitying at worst. One’s friends seem to be going through a similar crisis, thank the gods. Yet, blinded by our own struggle, how easy is it for a teenager to not notice that everybody around them is developing at a different rate, a rate each individual’s body is able to cope with? One friend seems to have mastered this disease of feelings and emotions seeping through the body the way a virulent poison might, and look at how coolly he or she fits in with the older kids now, kissing and hugging and growing their hair longer or hiding behind newfound imagery. Imagery which exclaims liberation, yet glowers with corruption. They have isolated this poison and treated it, pragmatically acknowledging the after effects. And what about the friend behind, whose voice keeps squeaking and tears are welling up in his eyes every five minutes when he sees bad news on the television or somebody getting bullied. And just what on earth are the girls constantly darting to and fro between classroom and bathroom for?
Is a selfish teenager likely to understand the arrival of true compassion?
This sibling relationship is one which takes time to get used to. When my first younger sibling was born, I was twelve, almost thirteen. For nine months my stepmother had gone from thin as a twig to bearing an intrusive protuberance and whenever she sat down she belched in a most unlady-like fashion. At this age, it’s hard to separate the self and all the overwhelming fears of girlfriends/boyfriends, irritating teachers, annoying friends and homework which piles up faster than you can finish it. It’s hard to take a moment to appreciate the new member of your life. Somebody who is going to look up to you and want to play football with you and draw with you and hug you when you return from a stint away at university. Somebody who, ultimately, because they are even younger and consequently even less rationally-minded than yourself, will become irritated even more easily than a teenager could.
When my little brother was born, then, a lot changed. Suddenly playing football with my dad revolved around the baby. He was always tired because the baby was up at night. We couldn’t hear the television because of the baby’s crying; we couldn’t even watch what we wanted because the baby wanted Thomas the Tank Engine. Dear gods what is this wretched sibling doing to my life?
And yet, the first word I ever heard Alex say was my own name, when dad was asking him who people in a photograph were.
I mean…what? How can you even measure that?
Then along came Isobel and Finn when Alex was only three years young and suddenly he’s the one who can no longer be entitled to the attention he deserves, because two little horrors have broken free, and even with a tried and true feed/sleep structure, twins are a whole different gravy. At sixteen I was able to recognize this, at twenty I know that, even with the very close experience I’ve had with the raising of these young cubs, there’s still plenty I won’t know until I become a parent, and therefore I cannot truly measure a parent’s love. An older sibling’s love must come close, though. Your little brother or sister falls over, you panic; they vomit, you panic; they have one of those moments when they cry so hard they forget to breathe…you panic! And when they slip from your sight for just a few seconds…heavens, is this what a heart attack feels like?
My dad and I even have little nicknames for them all. Alex is Dude; Isobel is Princess; Finn is Finndolph (it’s like ‘dolphin’ but backwards…see?) and at twenty, it is so very incredible to watch them grow up. Sure, day-by-day it seems a slow process; yet, when I return home for Christmas, Easter or Summer, so much seems to have changed. My eight year old brother already uses words such as ‘determined’ and phrases like ‘on the other hand’. Isobel treats guests with the respect and dignity of somebody ten years her senior, and Finn…well, Finn is our four year old teddy with what I can only assume is a secret Master’s degree in mathematics, logic and disregard for irony.
And the hugs, oh the hugs! Seeing their smiles for the first time in months is almost ineffable. Imagine a duck’s relief at finding a polynya in the arctic, and you might grasp the sheer power of happiness in seeing those smiles. Saying goodbye for three months is some twisted torture, on the other hand. All of a sudden their school drawings elude you. You can’t see them start running faster or speaking with more intent. All you can do is trust in their parents to keep them safe until you return, and hope that Finn doesn’t fall over more than five or ten times a week…
Indeed, the love for a younger sibling might truly be ineffable.
Next time, I’ll examine what it’s like for my older siblings.