My sister and I will always share a Big Sis, Lil Sis bond, despite a thirteen-year age difference. As a toddler, Big Sis was the source of my first, and countless other, piggyback rides. She’d lug me around the neighbourhood, showing me off to her friends, while looking after me for our mom. She gave me special treats, like cookies and ice-cream and was sure to wash my sticky hands and face afterward.
The youngest of five children, with a five year gap to the next youngest, I often felt like an only child. For most of my childhood I struggled to fit into my family, always seeming to be in the way. Yet, it was Big Sis who was there to make me feel protected, safe, and loved. In many ways Big Sis was my surrogate mother, as our mother and father worked tirelessly to raise us and put food on the table.
When Big Sis went to hairdressing school she would often practice her elaborate coifs on me. Consequently, I went from ringlets, to pageboy, to pixie cut, perms, and everything in between. For my grade-four school photo I donned a Betty Bouffant look and couldn’t wait to get home to comb it out. The night before Big Sis got married she tightly wound strands of my hair into tiny pin curls. I recall getting into bed that night, afraid to go to sleep in case they all fell out, which was next to impossible given how tight they were.
When I decided I wanted to grow my hair long again it was Big Sis who advised me. “Eat your mashed potatoes and your hair will grow faster!” She said convincingly. It seemed we had them every other night and I despised them. Regardless, I force fed myself and before I knew it, my hair had grown long and thick. Of course Big Sis had also stopped cutting it. Nevertheless, as usual, her advice stood strong. Today, mashed potatoes are a treat.
When Big Sis got married and left home I became quiet, fearful and painfully shy. I’d make my dad check under my bed in fear that monsters had moved in since Big Sis had left. I’d have reoccurring nightmares that sent me bolting into my parents’ bed in the middle of the night, much to their displeasure. When we moved across the country leaving Big Sis and her husband behind. I missed her terribly but with all the distractions of moving, I soon adjusted to life without her.
Once we’d relocated and became settled, Big Sis and her husband moved nearby. I was excited and relieved to have her close again, until I learned she was pregnant. Fortunately, she handled my insecurities the same way she handled most things in my life, with love and affection and the promise that not only would I become an auntie, but a Big Sis like her.
As I grew through adolescence, I would often go and stay with Big Sis. It was from her that I learned about female topics our mother was uncomfortable speaking about. Big Sis talked easily about periods, sex, and boys. She made it all sound matter-of-fact, leaving me feel empowered with my newly found knowledge of birds and bees. As I continued to struggle through adolescent growing pains and the many firsts of that time in a young girl’s life, Big Sis was there to counsel me.
As time passed, my relationship with her children mirrored the one Big Sis and I had. I’d carry them on my back, piggyback style, hold their hands, protect them from bullies in the neighbourhood and give them special treats like cookies and ice-cream, being sure to clean them up afterward.
When I married and had children, Big Sis became my sons’ surrogate grandmother. My mother had developed Alzheimer’s disease and I would trust no one other than Big Sis to live in my home and care for them while attending conferences with my husband. Consequently, our sons have many fond, and humorous memories of times spent with their aunty.
While as a toddler I looked up to her, today, I could pick her up and carry her on my back. Rheumatoid arthritis has changed her stature, caused her great pain and suffering over decades of aging, and has made her physically vulnerable. However, Big Sis has never allowed this to take over her positive spirit, energetic capacity and most importantly, her faith. She is at peace with it and has accepted it as part of her life’s story. It is through her undeniable faith that although she may appear disabled, nothing could be further from the truth. Her disability does not define who she is, nor what she is capable of.
Recently, after 12 years of being geographically apart, Big Sis and I reunited. There she stood, small and fragile, in the middle of the driveway with open arms. Her cupped hands revealed fingers bent in painful positions yet, she stood there giggling with youthful delight. As I approached, her big brown eyes drew me in uncovering the love, spirit, and strength she held within her. The familiarity took my breath away—in her I saw our mother. I bent forward to gently hug her and found myself overcome with emotion. Like a rag doll I fell limp into her tiny yet powerfully, loving arms. I was immediately transported to that place where timeless memories live and play. Big Sis and I had come full circle.
Well aware of the necessity of her walker, despite the fact she’d made her way down the driveway without it, I reached out to take her hand. She joked about her crooked fingers, “No one dare ask me for directions, my fingers point everywhere all at once.” We laughed, cried and when I left, promised to get together again soon. When we do, I think I’ll pick her up, give her a piggyback ride, and show her off to all my friends. Then we’ll eat cookies and ice-cream, and maybe some mashed potatoes.
Love you Big Sis
Always your Lil Sis