The drama of being the eldest sister
At the time my eldest daughter turned into an unbearable creature named a teenager, her social worker advised me to read “the drama of a gifted child”. Somehow, while I was getting close to understand what it means to become a teenager in my eyes as a mother, the book took me to my own drama of being a child. It made me delve into my own childhood and the critical issue in the strange or maybe dramatic relationship with my mother. Alice Miller does this to every reader definitely. So, it was not a unique case of me and my mother. The whole bond in the relationship with our mothers and our childhood is what makes the adults that we are, in its good and bad.
Anyway, since that moment, I came closer to the abandoned child in me. it was a very deep journey into my lost, forgotten, abandoned places in my childhood. It was hard and it was at the same time liberating. I learnt years in, years out, to make it out with that child in me that was locked somewhere in that distant time. As I focused on my relationship with my mother, a relationship that is complexed by the very nature of its definition. The age difference between us continued to be the key in our complexity. The sixteen years difference between my mother and I, are the same sixteen years of difference between my youngest sister and me. However, the sixteen years within that difference have eight other siblings that I was their eldest.
Growing to be the eldest has been part of what defines me. The eldest of a sister, two, three and four, five and six, seven and eight has been always part of my identity. I sounded normal all the time. there was nothing to do about it.
As I worked hard on reconciliating with the child residing inside me, I had to confront many realities about my life. My mother and my sisters. The tough tight umbilical cord that was never cut off me, and somehow was turned around my shoulders and eventually became part of me.
I was a horrible sister. There was no way to put it differently. I did not think about it this way of course, until my sisters started unveiling memories that I can hardly recall. I think there was so much to recall my rain cannot actually keep it. After all, each of the sisters has her package of memories with me, and I have packages of memories with all of them, so somehow there is a limit to how spacious my hard disk is.
As the memories of my sisters were flooding, I realized this must have one meaning: I spent so much time with them! As a friend once said to me: your mother is one incredible super woman, how could she raise all of you this well? I always agreed, especially thinking of the limits my mother had as a wife and as a mother. Being such a young mother is one of them. When she was twenty, she had 4 children. When she was 32, she had 9. When I was twenty, I was a spoilt insisting to be a teenager. When I was 32 I had it with my ex-husband and life could never exceed the 4 children I brought to life with more numbers. I don’t even know how one can raise four children anymore. How can one raise double plus one of this number?
Of course, I found it… my mother was a great president. She created the system and she managed perfectly… but this could haven to worked out without having a strong powerful prime minister… and that was me.
I love this idea… and I thought well girl… here you are… finally you make some justice to yourself and to your mother.
Somehow it is not easy with my mother. she insists in revisiting memories from one angle of events all the time. I have to say I grew up seeing things from her angle until I started the drama of my own child… the child inside me. as I was hovering around the past memories, I realized that my role has always been in this place of being the eldest. This is the childhood I know about. It was fun and by all means a great place to be. Growing up with so many sisters and neighbors from the same age group, an aunt and an uncle as well. Cousins from all directions. We did not need barbies and doll houses as children, we were doing this with the manpower we used to have. I was even an ice-cream maker. The ice-cream is an unforgivable crime of humanity.
So, the kids loved this ice-cream hat was called the sandwich: two biscuits filled with vanilla and chocolate. It was quite expensive and buying it for everyone was not even an option. So, I bring three of four biscuits. Make two as the base and chew another one or tow and make it as the filling and then freeze it. the kids loved it. they actually begged me for my chewed biscuits sandwich ice-cream.
Another unforgettable memory is the bathtub swimming classes. Until today I thought this memory covers four of us only. Today the striking revelation of sister number 5 came when she said she was part of that game. So, I would put them in the line and make them enter the bathtub by turn, and somehow, I would stay in the bathtub as they wait for their turn freezing outside.
Each time I laughed, we laughed about this, but today it felt so unbelievable, when my sister was with so much pain revisiting that memory of my abuse. I felt like kicking her out as a bee stuck to your ear annoyingly. I was like telling my self and her, who brought you in this part of memory. You should not have been there. This is a memory that is restricted to the four of us. she was another three or four year younger from number four.
As each time I would say, this should make you ask the question, of where was your mother, I was doing all those abusive things while I was a child left alone with other vey young children to entertain them.
From my sister’s point of view, I was privileged, and I should not even complain. She started telling other stories, and her parasitic attitude continued to grab into my nose. She reminded e of me watching dynasty series while she was forced to sleep and again insisting that I was privileged I felt myself screaming, for god sake, you were seven I was fifteen, and it was not a privilege to stay up when you should have been sleeping. She insisted that it was not fair, me with George Michael’s posters, the teddy bears in my room that I was having on my own, when I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and she was seven, eight, or nine.
Of course, there is another historical memory of me and my chips frying and salad… yes, I was dominant, controlling them, but I was growing all the time with extensions of sisters that I always remained the eldest. The eldest meant that a control zone between my mother’s orders and the order at home.
I have to say it hit me in a wrong place inside me as I heard the frustration of my sister about how mean and awful she thought I was, as if I stole her childhood or actually she missed her normal growing up as I was not fair.
I tried to explain to her that when I was eight or nine or ten, and there was a line of girls behind me in the bathtub, it was the responsibility of no one drowning was what made me stay in the warmth of the hot tub. The control of not making them slip in the edge of the sliding tub (that was the game) and hurt themselves was the real reason behind me staying inside. Making sure they were safe.
The responsibility of keeping all in order and the little creature smaller than I was, was a kind of adaptation with a situation that I never chose. I chose to entertain them, when I should have been playing whatever was suitable for me only.
As I became a teenager and the eldest, I was making my own space and was also taking the privilege of staying up until nine watching dynasty on Wednesdays, because the rule was that children sleep at seven. My sister was so filed with anguish that I was staying up when she had to sleep, and god she was seven, she had to sleep.
Somehow, I felt dragged with anger. How horrible it is to be the eldest all your life. That life of being a child and also a teenager. I have to say that as I turned 14, 15, and sixteen, three more siblings arrived. I was happy mothering them more than sistering them. It felt normal somehow…. But then you look back at life and think… how horrible it is. when all those times of your life spent to take care of others when you were supposed to be taken care of. and at the end of the day you are cruel, selfish and privileged.
Then you become a mother…. And you decide… that reading the dram of a gifted child as a mother… help you take of the burden from your eldest child and those who follow… and your burden remains.
They become adults… and at some point, in the normal calculation of living. you are just a sister… another sister in the long line of sisters… it no longer means or can ever be understood… how many times. on how many years of who you actually become… that responsibility of being the eldest is close to that feeling of being a mother… somehow. when I became a mother… it was not a hard job to be also a big sister. but yet, valuing that part of my eldest in taking a major role in helping me throughout my life with children as a mother.