“1...2...3...jump!!” we said in unison as the jeans crumpled around my four-year-old sister’s feet shot right up—with my assistance on the “jump!!” cue, of course. This was how I helped Paige get dressed for preschool every morning, a task that my dad had delegated to me, the sophisticated nine-year-old who could at least pick out a better outfit than the four-year-old (for the most part). I took my responsibility very seriously, and quickly discovered it was really hard to get pants on a squirmy little four-year-old noodle.
So, I came up with a method that worked for us: I would pick out Paige’s outfit for the day and then bunch up the pant legs that I had chosen. That way, when I kneeled down to put them on the ground, all she had to do was step into the foot holes. She would then put her little hands on my shoulders and on my “jump!”, she would excitedly obey and I would pull her pants all the way up. Voila! While a daily wedgie was most definitely an unintended consequence of this method, we at least got the pants on each time without fail.
Like most siblings who are four and a half years older than their younger counterpart, I was incredibly excited to be getting a little sister. I’ll never forget when she was handed to me in the hospital, mostly because I was set up with pillows practically consuming me and I was deeply offended. How dare my parents think I couldn’t hold this hours-old infant without the support of a severely over-cushioned chair? I was a very overconfident 4-year-old.
Paige came home from the hospital and I began my commitment to being a big sister. That meant committing to every phase of sisterhood for siblings of our age difference, though: the “she’s my baby” phase, the “wow, you really annoy me” phase, the “I’m way too cool for you” phase, and—finally—the “you were my best friend this whole time, weren’t you?” phase.
These phases exist in large part because each sibling goes through their own, often uniquely painful and confusing experiences with growing up. And Paige knew me in all of my stages: including what I like to refer to as my “ogre” stage (I was an early bloomer, I’ll leave it at that). In fact, she didn’t just know me—she somehow adored me. I think this, in many ways, sums up what it’s like to be a big sister growing up: no matter what my god-awful, unbrushed hair looked like, no matter what boys made fun of me for being “big”, no matter what girls didn’t invite me over for playdates, I always came home to a girl who thought I was the coolest kid she had ever met.
And that was something I didn’t appreciate enough at the time. While I know it’s essentially a rite of passage to take this admiration from your “annoying little sister” for granted, I still feel a sting of regret when I think about it. I knew how much Paige loved me and how much she wanted to spend time with me, but as a selfish, overwhelmed preteen, I often struggled with giving her the time of day. So much so, that one year for Christmas I gifted her “Steph Coupons” that she could use to have mandatory (although time-regulated) playtime with me. Except, of course, if that playtime fell outside of the terms and conditions stipulated on each coupon; for example, no Monopoly (I still hate that game). I think that was the most excited she’s ever been about a “gift” that I have given her.
Part of what informs the genuine friendship phase I’m so grateful to have arrived at is the understanding that there’s no one who knows you quite like your sibling does (ogre stage and all), and no one who respects and admires you for where you’ve come from. Why? Because they’re the only one who knows so intimately where exactly you did come from. You both know what your dad’s voice sounds like when he’s angry, what your mom’s heels sound like when she walks through the kitchen after a long work day, what the den feels like as you cuddle up to watch your favorite PBS television show.
Not even the man I’m going to marry a year from now knows me like that. Don’t get me wrong: Danny knows “who” I am, inside and out. But Paige knows “why” I am, inside and out. That’s why there’s no one who I’d rather have standing next to me as my Maid of Honor on that big day of mine in September. Paige, will you be my Maid of Honor? No coupons necessary.