It’s an odd thing watching your little sister grow a baby.
I’m the oldest child and as such, got to do everything first. I got to test the waters of all the cool stuff when we were growing up: driving, dating boys, seeing R-rated movies, getting pierced ears, going to dances, and going to college. I got to flounder around in the shallows, make all the mistakes, and show her by example or through overt warnings how to navigate deeper waters. (Don’t accelerate as you turn. Don’t go to a dance by yourself when you know the boy you have a crush on is going with your drama-prone friend. Don’t take any classes before 9 AM.) Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work out in my head. She’s been the first to do all the culturally sanctioned Big Things things lately. To get a job with health insurance. To earn a grown-up salary. To get married. Buy a car. Buy a house. Have a baby. I’m not leading anymore, but I’m not following either. Our relationship can no longer be described as a linear series of firsts and seconds.
It stings a little, knowing that by all conventional measures of adulthood she’s better at this than I am. (One of the things we have in common is competitiveness.) I feel a bit like the way I used to feel when she would pick up a new musical instrument and be able to play it in under 15 minutes. Or when I realized that, despite both of us being voracious readers, she’s a much, much better writer, seemingly without even trying. Or when she dyed her hair red and just looked stunning, not anemic. Ok, fine, Tess. I guess you can be good at being a grown-up, too. Jeez. But give me back my Cure shirt and stop stealing my socks.
Her pregnancy is also forcing me to admit that we aren’t actually all that close anymore. Part of this is because we live two hours away from each other, across miles and miles of congested Interstate 95. And it’s also because we’re both prickly people. It takes me years to feel comfortable around anyone and communicating isn’t something that comes naturally (it never occurs to me to email anyone about anything happening in my life, let alone make phone calls). Talking to Tess about anything is like pulling teeth. (Mom: “How was school?” Tess: “Fine.” Mom: “Do anything cool”? Tess: “Yeah.”) Neither of us has gotten better at these things as we’ve gotten older.
For a while in high school we were best friends, thanks to The X-Files. We both were obsessed with this show. We watched late night reruns together. We didn’t get Fox at our house, so our grandmother would tape new episodes for us and we’d watch an entire VHS tape worth of new episodes, one right after the other. We wrote fanfic together (she wrote dialog and I wrote description, although we collaborated on plot). I keep hoping for some other pop culture thing to attract both of us, so that we can have squealy conversations like we used about David Duchovny wearing glasses or what if iced tea had been in that bag.
Her having a baby means that the odds of this happening have just gone down by a whole lot. Her having a baby is a big, unavoidable representation of how impossible it is to go back home again. It feels like the number of women who could be my BFF has just dropped from 1 to 0. Any relationship we have now will be tempered by this child and the demands that it places on her.
This sounds bleak. And it sounds mean and unfair, both of which it is. Of course we will still be friends. Of course will still see each other. And (most importantly) this baby is not a bad thing for anyone. But it is a thing. It’s a thing that is changing my relationship with my sister. And as someone who hates change, it’s taking a while for me to get used to it. (Of course, it took me years to get used to wearing colors, so.)
In spite of all this, I am actually excited to have a niece. I’m not fantastic with children once they’re verbal, but maybe if I start with this one from the beginning, things will be less awkward? I plan to knit her many cute hats and buy her lots of books. My brother and I will make sure this kid likes Star Trek and Firefly and video games. And Alien, when she’s old enough.
I’m excited to watch my parents become grandparents and get to enjoy a baby without the pressure of raising it correctly, keeping things out of its mouth, and sending it to college. I’m excited to see my brother be an uncle, because he will undoubtedly be the coolest uncle ever. And I am excited to watch my sister become a mother because she and her husband are already so happy about meeting this little girl.
Frankly, I can think of no combination of baby garments that better express my emotions about becoming an aunt than an angry crab hat and some duck booties.