They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If so, what does the one above say to you?
PS – Sorry that it’s blurry. It’s a picture of a picture taken by my parents…
There are many reasons why siblings grow apart – family separations, significant age gaps (most say it’s anything over 3 years), parental influence or lack thereof, personality conflicts, physical distance, etc.
I’ve known my sister, S, for 32 years and 15 days. We’re 4 years and 11 months apart (now you know my age <insert eye roll>) which most would say puts us into the category of “significant age gap”. But, I’m happy to say that she’s one of my best friends. And I, the older and wiser of us, attributed the reason of our closeness to me, until recently.
4 years is a long time to be without a sibling. Especially for a child who was very happy in her own world and did fine without someone treading on her territory or stealing her attention. Mind you, us first-borns have no idea that we might feel this way until our lives are interrupted by another. Hence my face in the picture above.
Before S was born we were a family of three. But after, we suddenly jumped to a family of eight because family from India came to stay with us to help with child care. At one point my aunt (dad’s oldest sister), maternal grandparents and paternal grandmother all lived with us under the same roof. We were only all together for a short period of time and mostly, they switched in and out for a few years.
I wonder if it was because there were so many adults at that time, that I felt the need to forge some sort of alliance with my baby sister. We needed to become friends. So I made an effort to play with her. We made houses from cardboard boxes, played pretend, created a new language during one of our family road trips, biked around the subdivision and streets together. I, of course, still took advantage of her and manipulated her as an oldest child might do. And we also had our share of fights, but it was all just yelling and crying and never anything physical.
The age gap started making itself relevant when I got into in jr. high. It was a very gradual shift. I developed teen angst and confusion and S continued playing with Pokemon cards and Tamagotchis with her friends (don’t get me wrong, I still loved Tamagotchis). We were in very different phases of our lives so finding common ground became harder. I can’t speak for S, but I never actually noticed the change. I still loved her, but she once again became just my baby sister.
I was a junior in college/uni when I suddenly realized that S would also be going to college soon. S and I had continued to stay as close as we could. We caught up over the phone and would spend time together when I went back home. But now that she would be going to college soon, I thought that I should begin to make her aware of what college might be like – both the good and the bad of studying, meeting people, different pressures from school and people, etc. So I asked her to come visit for a few days.
I took her around campus, introduced her to my friends and even left her to play soccer with K and other friends when I had class (yea, K and I were friends in college).
I decided that if S and I were going to have a good relationship in the future, I needed her to know all of my stories, the good and the bad, regardless of what she thought, just so that she could know to trust me with anything she might go through.
Our age gap separation started on its official decline when S went to college. Sure, I was still miles ahead of her in terms of experiences since I had entered the working world at that time, but our conversations became deeper and more relatable to both sides. Both of us getting older had a lot to do with it, but establishing that trust, and teaching her that I could be her confidant played a large part as well.
As we continued to grow-up, we stayed as close as possible. The age gap separation fully dissipated, but our friendship and roles as older and baby sister remained. We love each other to the nth-degree and have the most ridiculous inside jokes with each other. We visit each other as much as we can wherever we are, e.g., K and I have only been in Hong Kong for 8 months and S has already been here 3 times. But I do still tell her to make sure certain things get done, and she still lets me take responsibility for whatever situation we’re in. She would literally walk out of a hotel room without a glance back because she knew I’d lock up the safe and the room before we left – it’s hilarious in hindsight. To be fair, neither one of us is like this with anyone else but each other. When we’re together she becomes the baby sister.
I just recently had a beautiful baby girl this past June, but it was when I found out that I was pregnant that I saw S morph from her role as a baby sister/friend. She was slowly turning into an Aunt or a Cheriamma as we call it.
S is a Pediatric GI so she naturally loves babies, but this was different. This baby was my baby which basically meant she was going to be S’s baby too. Of course our entire family was excited, especially the soon-to-be grandparents. But the excitement that I saw from S was special to me.
Fortunately, S’s fellowship ended a month after I had baby E, and she was able visit for a month before she started her next job. It was amazing to have her here, both as a physician, and as a sister and confidante. We definitely still annoyed each other at times, but she was sad to leave and I was really sad to see her go.
There’s one thing she said to my parents on the phone while she was here that really stood out to me.
“Now you need to call Chechi more!”
Chechi means older sister in Malayalam and is what she’s called me ever since she started speaking.
“We will, but you girls should call too”, my mom responded.
“Of course”, says S, “But Chechi has a baby now so you have to call her and check on her when she forgets.”
I smiled, knowing that my baby sister had decided to let me walk out of the hotel room first.
Blog edited by: Betty Ho