My dad took me to the local drug store the night she was born. "Pick any toy you want," he said, "as long as it's under five dollars." I picked up a Barbie, the first brand new one I'd ever touched before. Her legs didn't bend at the knees and she was shoeless, but her hair was nylon fiber smooth and her pink dress was simple and lovely. "Can I have this one?" I asked. Dad nodded. This was the only Barbie I'd ever own and it was all thanks to her being born.
I remember loving this mewling, wrinkly thing bundled in cotton onesies who came home some slightly chilled Phoenix autumn evening. I loved her not because she was oh-so-adorably like my dolls but because she needed me. Mother was in college, Dad slept all day and burned the midnight oil. I gave her bottles of glucose water when Mother was gone, I changed her diapers. When Mother vacuumed it made my sister scream because it hurt her fragile eardrums so I rocked her and sang "Stille Nacht" until she calmed down.
Her needing me when we were little is what made being around her possible even when she got more of our mother's time, when she was preferred by our grandmother, when she so clearly was a prettier chid. During countless roadtrips, I would entertain her in the backseat of the car, manufacturing an invisible friend named "Middle" who would make her laugh. When she'd get spanked for crying (which was often), I would plead with our father on her behalf, furious at the injustice of punishing a child for crying because she was being punished. And I needed her, too. I authored many a stage play that needed pint-sized actors. Without her, I would've had to be content with only dolls.
When we were younger and I would try to emphasize the difference between us and my greater maturity, I would say that we're 'almost five years apart.' She would correct me with, 'no, we're almost four years apart.' Now that she's on the cusp of 29, our positions are reversed as I try to point out close I am to her age. She's still quick to correct me, this time pointing out that we're almost five years apart, making her that much younger. Such are the competitive vanities of sisters.
About 12 years ago, she wrote me a letter when she was 17 and had just been initiated into the same sorority. I was too embarrassed to read it all the way through then and I am now, too. Not because any part of it is inappropriate but because my then-17-year-old sister reveals her effusive, bare emotions with her "Anne of Green Gables" melodramatic style. Her letter reminds me too much of my 17-year-old self and how much I used to care (or let people see that I cared) before I wrapped myself in my own little shell.
The 20s are a rough time. It's when the childhood rubber hits the road of adulthood, when you have to actually put into action all those things you dreamed about doing and hope they yield the expected results. Sometimes they don't. Turning 29 is when a person may reasonably look back on their 'youth' and reflect on what one has or has not accomplished. It can be sobering. Competitiveness aside, I feel like I can relate, a few years ago having written about going through a little taste of something similar when I turned 30.
The last few years have been hard on my sister for reasons we share, the last 12 months particularly so. My guess is that this makes turning 29 into a certain indignity for her, insult added to injury. But, I refuse to offer her pity (it's beneath both her dignity and mine) and compassion makes it sound like I'm giving her my blessing to compromise on her goals, which is the last thing I would want for her. Getting older doesn't require compromise, but it does demand acceptance.
Over the years, I've seen my little sister become very much like me -- or at least the me I might've been except for a couple key differences in our life paths. There's nothing wrong with that and I defend all of her choices. But just like parents hope for their children to have better lives than they had, I wish I could help give her a more uplifting outlook. After all, depending on how you reckon the passage of time, I'm either almost five or just over four years older than she is and I have a certain perspective to offer.
So here's what I've learned in the last few years since I turned 29:
You don't stop feeling lonely or out of place. You just realize that it's how life will be for you and you become okay with that.
Right now at this moment you are the best looking you will ever be. Delight in that.
The only ones with you from the very beginning who will be able to relate to you in the end are your siblings, for better or for worse. Keep in touch with all of them.
Smile more. It's the only sure-fire way to look younger.
Worry less. Whatever it is you're going through now, next year it will matter less. Five years from now, it won't matter at all.
Call home. They need you, even if they don't say it. You need them, even if you won't admit it. I promise you that someday you'll wish you'd connected with them more.
Let it go (whatever 'it' is for you at any given moment).
I won't promise your 30s will be easy. But I do think they will be easier. Trust your big sister on this one.
Also, don't forget to call me in 10 years. I'll give you a preview of your 40s.