I was an only child for almost seven years; seven quiet and comfortable years, at least for me. I was a very loud child. I seldom shut my mouth and could talk for hours about pretty much anything. I used to sing to people on the aeroplane, talk to doctors, assuring them that they couldn’t get anything past me and anyone who visited our house was in for a very long night of constant interrogation. Recently, my dad was chatting to one of his old friends and he looked at me and said, “She’s not talking”. He met me once, when I was two, and I talked non-stop for three hours.
In response, my dad looked around at me and shrugged his shoulders, “She doesn’t talk much anymore”. It’s not entirely true; I do have my occasional rants and once I get comfortable around someone, I talk constantly, but my days of chatting to perfects strangers are long gone. As I got older, I gradually became quieter and quieter, and the bullies in Junior Infants helped me along with that, as well as some of the teachers. I don’t blame them - I did sometimes find myself drawing absently on tables and become absorbed in what accounted for elaborate daydreams in my childlike mind, but they didn’t deal with it too well. Misdemeanour equalled punishment, and getting points docked from my ‘table’ didn’t help my case with my fellow students.
So, at some point during my boisterous childhood, my parents figured, hey, look at what our genes did the first time, maybe it’ll turn out just as good the second time. My agreement on that changes from day to day, but I guess my brother is OK. He’s good at math, having a larger dose of my dad’s genes than I, and he’s just plain smart, beating me at chess smart.
I mean, in some ways he’s like me. Try the ‘never shuts up’ part. He likes Pokémon too, although his career plans are more realistic than mine were at his age. He wants to make chocolate bars and employ the members of his family so that he doesn’t have to pay them. It makes perfect sense to him, but I, having been recently dosed with copious amounts of Junior Cert Business Studies, know that people have pesky things like ‘rights’ and ‘trade unions’, and the fact that not paying employees equals slave labour. Still, when he regales us with his trusty business plan at the dinner table, I keep my mouth shut, because that’s what big sisters do.
I was a cool big sister too, in the days when he hero-worshipped me and wooed me for the use of my DS and a Pokémon game, even if he didn’t know how to work either. I provided him, grudgingly, with the basic information that every future gamer needs. Pokémon, Mario and, as of the 11/11/11, Skyrim. Do me a favour and don’t abbreviate that.
Of course now, I find myself in the depths of the ‘I’m not related to her’ stage of our frequently shaky relationship. I’m treated with aloofness, scorn, and what I like to think of as slight awe, or that could just be a glare; I tend to lean toward the former.
Recently, my brother learned to ride a bike. It took him about two hours and since I’ve shortened the actual time that it took me to learn to a conveniently abridged version. Now he’s a big man around the estate, riding with some kids from the larger estate up the road. It’s like going from being a small town boy to a city guy, the kind who can elbow people politely. I had a crazy bike stage too, where I spent all day just cycling in a circle, from my garden around the green area along a path and back to my garden. I was intent on becoming fit, even though I ran for about an hour every day on top of cycling endlessly, and I swore to myself that I’d eat my carrots and stop putting sugar on my cornflakes. Then I got a PlayStation 3, and other plans kind of took a backseat.
Oh, and the latest craze with Cathal is ‘a phone’ which was followed quickly by, wistful, statements of desire for a laptop. I had to wait twelve years before getting a really old one, and no brother of mine gets to jump ship and score one before he’s at least ten. Good thing the Internet is so ‘dangerous’ today, he’ll have to be really mature before he gets in on it.
Despite all the shouting matches and the constantly on-going fights about nothing in particular, I love my brother. He’s blood, so he gets big sister protection from kids older than him but younger than me, even kids older than me if I have to. He gets a cocked hip and a half-threatening lean against the fence if anyone messes with him, and failing that a sharp word and a subtle involvement of their parents, who are so mortified they sort the problem out for me, even if in a vaguely indignant manner. I love diplomacy.
My brother is cooler than I was at this age, and benefiting from older sibling protection that I didn’t have. I know what it feels like to be teased and to have no older sibling to run to for help in dealing with other kids. Despite what they think, adults can’t solve everything when it comes to kids beating on other kids, and it can sometimes be worse to go running to a parent. Get an older sibling, however, and that’s OK. That isn’t ratting, because they’re in on the game, and they can play better that the small time bullies. I like to think that I can play too, and if I couldn’t I’d learn, because I’m a big sister. I have a reputation to uphold.