My earliest memory is going to Schuncks (a local St. Louis grocery store) on a cold, dark night to pick up a cake for my new sister, Jennifer. I remember sitting in our breakfast room in the dark, with only the candles on the cake for light, anxiously waiting for the singing to be over and the cake to be cut.
I also remember being sad, scared, and confused with the impending addition of my sister to my family. Those scares are not as fresh today, and they have faded into the background of my memory of that day. Fast forward to today, she is one of my closest confidents and biggest cheerleaders. I am impressed by her maturity and self confidence; one of her best qualities is the sound advice she gives after listening to a particular dilemma.
However at three years old, she was anything but a blessing. In fact, it would take almost two decades for us to become friends.
The rest of this memory is actually my grandmother’s. She had come to town to take care of me while my parents took care of my sister. (Recently I heard a debate on the radio regarding paternity leave… Clearly the host did not have little children and failed to realize it takes a minimum of two people to keep ahead of a tiny dictator newborn. In my book, paternity leave is just as much for Mom as for the new baby. Someone who is not under the influence of massive hormones fluctuations needs to be in charge!)
Even though she only shared this memory with me once, it is as vivid as though it is my own. After we had eaten the cake, she walked me up the stairs to my room. I paused at every stair (all fifteen of them) and asked her, “What am I going to do?” At three years old, I thought my parents were having another child to replace me. I thought that there could not possibly be enough love in their hearts for both of us. I was being replaced.
As a parent, I have a better understanding of why my parents wanted another child and a sister for me (a few years later I got another one). The love for your child is limitless and there is always enough to go around. My parents loved being parents so much they had another child.
Years of therapy have taught me that while feelings are important, they are not fact. Many times, feelings will insert themselves as truth even though reality is very different. For years, I reacted to my sister as that lost, hurt three year-old. Thankfully, I have released that resentment and we have moved forward in a (mostly) functional adult relationship. As with anything worth doing, it took a while. It took a long time for us to stop expecting the worst from each other. We worked our way into a cautious friendship, and now, we are not only sisters but also the closest of friends.