When I'm sitting around in a group and we're introducing ourselves and someone has the great idea to "share something no one knows about you!" I often bust out with "I am the oldest of five kids." It's not a particularly fascinating and/or juicy factoid, but I feel like it's one of the most defining things about me. At least, it was the one thing people knew about me when I was growing up and going to small schools with the rest of my siblings- "Oh, Maggie's the oldest of the [Maggie's Highly Google-able Maiden Name] kids!" (And my poor sisters, never to be known as Their Names, but Maggie's Little Sisters. Can I help my awesomeness?)
Anyway, I've been thinking about this a lot in the last few days. I'm having a new baby, a girl, who will have an older brother, what is that like, I've never had an older sibling, she'll be so different from me, (THANK GOD), will Jack be a good big brother, oh wait I DID have an older sibling...
For a few months? A school year? I can't really remember, but my cousin lived with us when I was six or seven years old. My aunt adopted E from Columbia when she was 9 years old and they lived in a small town close to Oregon, which my six- or seven-year-old brain remembers as being the longest drive in the universe. For whatever reason things weren't going well, and when E was in 5th or 6th grade, she moved into my house for a bit and went to my elementary school.
The biggest thing I would tell you about E is that she. did. not. like. me.
These are all cloudy hazy memories and I honestly can't tell you what it was really like. I was just vaguely aware that an older girl had moved into my house and was not impressed with her litter of much younger cousins. I remember cautiously walking into whatever space was hers and getting roundly scolded and shoved out. I remember walking near the school- she was with a friend and maybe I was a few feet behind?- and they were being sort of vulgar (5th or 6th grade vulgar) and using words I'd never heard. I remember my dad helping her with her math homework. I remember her Older Girl things: her clothes, her shoes and bags, hair brushes, lip glosses. She was often mean and nasty to me, but that didn't prevent me from wanting to dress like her, act like her, use her stuff.
My family moved to an Air Force base in Sicily and not only was I the oldest again, I was beginning to build an understanding of what it was to BE The Oldest. I had chores, the list of things I was not allowed to do was ten feet long, I was convinced my mother didn't like me, etc. etc. And one spring or summer my aunt decided to treat my cousin to a trip to Europe for her 16th birthday. I was eleven. And she still hated me.
We were driving somewhere in the van (probably to one of my dad's beloved ancient ruins) and I think I was humming to myself in the back seat. E turned around and gave me a look that could instantly shrivel a grape. "Could you please stop making that noise?" She whipped her head back around and I have never forgotten the embarrassment. She was in a perpetual sour mood and had no qualms about saying mean and nasty things to me, but I still wanted her to think I was cool. Or, you know, as cool as an eleven-year-old could possibly be.
We would visit my aunt and cousin in the summers and these were the times E seemed to not think I was a piece of lint. As the oldest girl I usually got to sleep in her room and oh, I loved her room. There was a huuuuge poster of Michael J. Fox taped above her bed. We listened to Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper. (One thing about being the oldest- there is no one to influence your musical preferences. Phillip, thanks to his much older brother, recognizes trillions of horrible 80s songs, but I only know the handful of things I heard in my cousin's room.) She had dozens of nail polish bottles lined up on her dresser and it was the most thrilling thing in the world when she did "makeovers" on me with actual real live makeup. For a while she was on some dance team and would perform her routines for me. She had boyfriends and her own phone and a queen-sized bed and OMG SHE WAS SO COOL.
I think, after a while, she liked "impressing" me. The summer I turned 16 my parents let me stay overnight at E's very own apartment. We went to a rodeo (that's how far away she lived, a RODEO) and there were boys there and beer bottles and while we behaved and got home at a reasonable hour, I suspected she was only home because she had her 16-year-old cousin in tow. Whatever, it was super fun.
I wanted her to love me, but I could never quite tell if she hated me, liked me or simply tolerated me. She was awfully busy being angry at lots of people and now that I am Older and Wiser I can certainly understand a lot of what was happening in ways I didn't then.
I am 29 and E is 34 and I see her a few times a year, for holidays and family things. She doesn't seem so much older than me anymore. She got married after I did and had her first baby a few months before I had Jack. She had her second baby a few months ago, and I'm about to have one in the next few weeks. I last saw her at a little family reunion last weekend. She grabbed my elbow and said, "Before you go, I have something for you." Inside a gift bag was one of the cutest baby girl outfits and E was smiling as I fawned all over it. "I'm so excited you're having a girl," she said. "I'm so excited to meet her. It's so fun to have our kids close in age. It's too bad we don't live closer."
She's the closest thing I have to an older sibling. I think she likes me now.