My youngest sister Dani and I were born 12 years apart, meaning that while I was starting my freshman year of college, she was just starting first grade. While I was coming home from school during winter breaks, she was trying to figure out whether or not Santa was real. When I got home on these breaks, I resumed my position as the head babysitter and she resumed her role of the bored child.
I was 18 and resentful that I had to be burdened with childish games and movies in an attempt to pacify my hyperactive sister. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have any other plans, or a job, or a car to get anywhere interesting. I just didn’t appreciate the friendship that was forming without me even knowing.
Now, at 23, I graduated with my Master’s and moved back home before starting my new job. I haven’t taken a break in years and I am constantly “too busy.” My sister is going into seventh grade at my former middle school and struggling with preteen angst while figuring out her identity. She’s old enough now that she doesn’t need a babysitter, just someone to pop in and check on her occasionally.
One Monday morning, I stopped in to find her glued to the TV, eating popcorn at 11 am, and I could have sworn that I was having an out-of-body experience. I cannot count how many times I laid around my apartment bored out of my mind, watching TV, and eating popcorn at odd times. I realized that, potentially, we had a lot more in common than I let myself believe before.
I spent a few minutes sitting with her and making sure she was okay before she turned to me and asked if I would take her swimming at our community pool. Ah yes, I thought, this is where we differ. I hate swimming, and the outside in general, but my sister is a fish out of water. I looked out the window remembering how hot it was outside and how boring it was to sit around the house all summer.
So I did something I never do: I conceded.
My sister lit up like the Fourth of July and ran to gather all of her swim gear. I packed snacks and sunscreen like an adult and she grabbed towels for both of us. We loaded up my car and started the drive down to the pool.
We sang along to the radio at the top of our lungs and she started to tell me more about her life. She is playing in a championship soccer league she loves and her best friends are Jess and Zoey. She hates reading, (a stab to my heart) but she is obsessed with Glee. She currently has pink hair but wants to dye it purple next. I started to see more and more of myself in this amazing human being.
We spent hours at the pool, laughing and splashing. I showed her a bunch of pool games from my childhood and she showed me the ones invented in my absence. She loves my Batman swimsuit because “Batman is the coolest superhero there is.” I asked why; she told me it’s because I have a Batman tattoo, so obviously, he’s the best. I resisted the urge to cry right then and there.
We bumped into one of her friends and she proudly introduced me. She made me show my tattoo and told her friend that I can “sing like Adele.” For the record, I’m good, but I don’t have a shelf of Grammy Awards. I realize then that she looks up to me.
My mom always said that one day she would, but we were always so different. I didn’t think I was a role model, but notwithstanding her height, Dani looks up to me. She parrots my behavior, and has developed my wit and sharp tongue. She is fiercely independent and has started asking me about words like “feminism” and “gender identity” which leads me to believe she will be a trailblazer.
We like the same pizza and the same drink from Starbucks. We love similar movies and superheroes and snacks. We have the same freckles and the same crazy sense of style. We both love cats and we both Instagram every moment of our lives. For years these small details seemed so insignificant, but now, they add up to the bigger picture of the relationship we share.
I have learned from my sister as well. She is wise beyond her years in terms of her conception of gender and her ability to make any activity fun. She is not burdened by the many awful things in the world yet, and she is still able to find good in everyone. These are traits I hope she always holds dear.
I am working on creating a better friendship between us. She is no longer just a kid, but a young person, coming to terms with the world around her, and I plan to be there to hold her hand every step of the way. I make sure that I have time in my week to spend with her and when I move again, I will call and text her often. Our younger siblings are not a burden on us, but an opportunity for us to teach and guide the next generation to be better people.