Sunday, 18 November 2007

Big sister and little sister

As a little girl, this was one of my favourite books. I loved looking after my little sisters - entertaining them, singing them to sleep, bathing them, feeding them, walking them to school when they were a bit older, teaching them to swim and to ride their bikes... When I was 8 and my first sister was about a year old, I once sang the same song to her 100 times over in the hope that it would eventually bore her to sleep.

When I was 14, and my sisters were 5 and 7, my father was hosting a major work event. Some of the visitors who came for this event stayed at our house, and while I was washing some dishes in the kitchen the wife of one of the visitors wandered in and started to chat.

"Let me get this straight," she began. "There are five children in the family, aren't there?"

"No, six," I replied.

She then listed the names of all five of my brothers and sisters, and asked who she had forgotten.

"Well, me," I answered.

"Oh, really?" she shrieked. "I thought you were the nanny."

When mothers who have just one or two children hear about a family with several, they frequently say things like, "I don't know how they do it", "But it's so much work", "I've got my hands full with just two", etc.

Sure, there's a lot more laundry, you have to cook larger quantities, and there's a lot of juggling to get different people to their different activities on time. But what they don't take into account is that a mother with a toddler and a baby can't leave them alone for five minutes without worrying about what might be happening. Just to give you a few examples of situations I've come across, the toddler might have glued the baby's eyes shut with her Bob the Builder stickers, drawn with markers all over the baby's face, managed to drag the baby up onto the sofa (by one arm) to give her a cuddle and then left her on the edge of the sofa ready to fall off... You get the picture.

But if you have a baby, a toddler and a couple of older children, you can actually turn your back for five minutes. A couple of times in the last week or so I've been able to observe older siblings looking after their younger siblings while their parents were occupied elsewhere, and I love to see the interaction between them.

Of course, it doesn't always work. My littlest sister was Not Good about going to bed. On one occasion when she was about a year old, my parents had gone out to a work function, leaving my older brother, then aged about 14, and me in charge of the little ones.

Halfway through the evening, my brother picked up my screaming sister, left me looking after the other little ones, and marched down the road to where the function was in full swing. My father's colleagues gaped as my brother appeared in the dining room, walked up to my mother and dumped my sister in her lap, saying, "I believe this is yours", before turning on his heel and marching out again.

Still, we did look out for each other. And we still do. Guess who's been on Skype again today...