Day Eight – Setting The Example

Margaret Harper

Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life
~Charles M. Schulz

Growing up, big sisters walk a fine line between setting the good example that most are told is their responsibility and becoming a bossy mother substitute while they are still children themselves. Once they’ve heard that, ” you are the oldest, you have to set the example ” speech enough, they can become rooted in a role model position that morphs easily over time into a caretaker role that can be difficult to give up.

Having a childhood where you are told you need to be the responsible one can create a life long struggle between trying to live your life as you desire and trying to ensure everyone around you is okay. Children need a chance to be children, even those born first. Can you tell where I am in the birth order? I am the eldest of four girls.

Being prepared for worst possible outcomes has been a by-product of the big sister syndrome for me. When I was about six, I remember hearing on the news or in adult conversation that a tornado was possible and the impact it might have on the city where I lived with my mother and only sister at the time. For some reason, I decided that our mother was not on top of things enough to suit me so I took it into my own head that we needed a plan of action complete with an escape route and a place to meet should we be separated by the storm.

Decision made and because Margaret was only about four, and I packed our little kiddie suitcases with a few things I thought we might need and put it all by the front door sometime after our mother had gone to bed. I remember being very surprised the next morning that we had not had to flee in the night and I can’t remember what my mother might have said when seeing the important pile by the door.

We moved from the house in the photograph sometime before my seventh birthday and years later I went back to see it. After a quick look at the front of the still unremarkable red brick, ranch-style house, I walked past the carport and went around the backyard to see the “safe” place I had planned to lead my little sister in the event of a tornado.

The designated place was not such a good pick after all as I had chosen a concrete pipe that while large enough to hold us both, would have been filled with water very quickly as it emptied groundwater from the neighborhood into a depression that ended behind our house.

It is funny the things you remember and what inspires them. My sister Margaret is holding her umbrella on a day that appears sunny and bright. Some people might say … “oh look, she’s showing off her umbrella” because it’s not raining. I see it and think about the natural disaster I was so worried about while the real challenges in our young lives were still to come.

Margaret arrives today from Alaska and will be here for the rest of September. I’ve been planning this visit for months and while I’m not the same worried six-year old, I must admit to a bit of anxiety. I was on iChat with her several times yesterday going over last-minute details and made sure she had John’s brother’s phone numbers ” just in case ” as I later told John so that she would not be stranded in the airport if  ” we were injured in a critical crash or unconscious in the hospital.”

John in his easy-going way suggested something much less dramatic might hold us up while I laughingly tried to attribute my worst case scenario thinking to my creative writer’s mind while really knowing that it’s just me planning for the worst, while hoping for the best.

Margaret’s response to my over planning for an unlikely situation was to say that in the event of our hospitalization, she was still going to see London and Paris rather than hang out at the hospital with us. Spoken like a true younger sister … seriously, Margaret has morphed into a planner with a keen sense of preparedness all her own so the best way to ensure a good visit will be for me to remember that she’s grown and not such a ” little ” sister anymore. We haven’t traveled together or spent more than two weeks in the same space since we were twelve and fourteen so it ought to be an adventure in many ways.

As we were going over her what to pack list I started to tell her that she did not need an umbrella as we had plenty, but she popped a nice striped one up for me to see on camera. Having seen the raincoat she’s bringing as well, I can rest assured that not only is she able to plan for changes in weather without her big sister’s help, but she will be fashionable on the city streets with her color coordinated coat and brolly. Given what I had planned to wear, it might be time to let her set the example for a while.

7 thoughts on “Day Eight – Setting The Example

  1. Hope you and your sister have a fab time.. a great difference between Alaska and cornwall 🙂

    I am the eldest of 3 … one sister (deceased) and one brother .. in that order, I cannot stand being the eldest, in fact I was pushed out a lot.. my sister and brother got on well and were closer.

    My brother as he has got older can be annoying, speaking to me like his daughter, always correcting me .. but then on the other hand , caring .. and worried.

  2. Margaret, Margaret, Margaret. I so hope you and your sister have a wonderful time. I have always taken the role of big sister very seriously. It served us all quite well as children and even as adults. I promised my brothers they would be freed from being the “younger” ones when our parents died or when I turned 50. Well, the last parent died one week before I turned 50, so I had to set them free. Although I do admit to naturally lapsing back into ‘bossiness” on occasion, I find that in fact it was myself who was set the most free. I no longer feel the huge responsibility of keeping everyone in line, on track, on time, in sinc etc. By freeing them I have given myself the best gift of all, my own freedom.

  3. I am the oldest of 6. Hmm. Long stories go with this!

    I suspect not many people recognise their struggle to ‘do what they really want to do because they don’t allow themselve to see it. 50 seems to be the point where they are forced into peeking at this part of themselves, as fear engenders the courage to look….sometimes. Many simply never let go enough to see. That’s my theory, created through painful realisation that hey, my life is whizzing by and if I don’t do something about it, it will have gone.

    Enjoy your sister’s visit, I hope you both learn stacks from each other and about each other.

    Margaret, welcome to Britain.

  4. I was an only child, expect for a short time when I had an older sister. I terrorized her, poor girl. But I would have loved to have sisters, I think. I’m pretty sure I’d be the bossy one. Have a spectacular time.

  5. I loooove the story about your preparing you and 4-year-old Margaret for the possibly approaching tornado. Gosh what a caregiver you were even then. That just speaks of determination and creativity beyond words.

    I’m so excited for you to have Margaret’s visit — I can’t imagine how much this must mean to you both! And also John’s nudging you that the most likely scenario is NOT a big pileup on the autoroute. : )

    I’m the oldest as well, one “little” brother (who is of course taller than I and, as we age, keeps getting more handsome while I get progressively dowdier and dowdier). I hadn’t realized what a pain in his arse I had been but when we were in our mid-20s we went through a tough time as he let me know. I felt horrible. But I suppose that really is life.

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