January 31, 2014
By Ekta R. Garg
Recently Seven has become more aware of the fact that she’s a big sister.
Does that sound funny? By saying that I mean that until now she accepted wholeheartedly and without question Five’s presence in her life. She doesn’t remember the two years she was an only child. She has always had a best friend, a playmate, someone to navigate the early childhood years with.
But in the last several months we’ve noticed that Seven has started separating herself from her little sister in subtle ways. She teases Five about things. She gets frustrated with Five about a variety of things. And she has started to express in small ways her desire to have time away from her little sister.
Last week Seven got an invitation to a friend’s house for an extended play date. Seven came home and said the friend who had invited her said Five might be in the way. I asked Seven what she thought of that.
“I didn’t say it, X. did.”
“Do you think she would be in the way?”
“No, but sometimes she plays with us and then forgets and goes away.”
I know that was kidspeak for Five getting bored or feeling left out and then wandering from her sister and her sister’s friends. It’s happened once or twice before. A few weeks ago when Seven invited a friend to come to our house, Five came to me about a half-hour after the friend got here and told me Seven and the friend had left her out of what they were playing. When I asked Seven about it later she said that Five played with them for a little while and then complained of boredom. I figured the truth lay somewhere in the middle and tried to make both of them understand where they could help each other and themselves.
When the issue of going to Seven’s friend’s house came up, though, I knew it wouldn’t be quite so simple. So when Seven told me her friend felt it might be better for Seven to come alone, I decided to see if we could swing just that. I talked to Five and explained to her as diplomatically as I could that she might have more fun at home with me, that while her big sister didn’t have any intention of excluding her sometimes it happened by mistake.
Five took it pretty well. She seemed a little disappointed, but she didn’t throw a tantrum or try to fight me too much. She just accepted my simple explanation.
On the day of the play date I dropped Seven at her friend’s house and came home. I spent some time with Five, gave her lunch and a shower, chatted with her, and then went on a grocery run alone. By the time I left for the store Five had found plenty to entertain herself. She had asked a few times during the day when her big sister would come home, but she didn’t push the issue too much. She knew Seven would come home eventually.
In the evening I went to the friend’s house and picked up Seven. When we got into the car, after navigating the driveway covered in old snow and some slush, I asked Seven if she had fun. She told me she had really enjoyed herself at her friend’s house.
“Well, [Five] has been waiting for you all day.”
“I totally forgot about [Five] while I was at X.’s house.”
I didn’t know quite how to react to that; it was the first time she’d said it. Was it a really bad thing? Should I scold her? Lecture her? Demand to know how she could forget a family member?
In the end I just said, “Don’t tell her that.”
I’ll admit, it pinched a little when I heard Seven say she’d forgotten her sister. I’m sure a day will come when for parts of her day she won’t think of any of us—as an adult she’ll focus on her career or her family or the small chores that make up every-day life. I find myself in tunnel vision mode when I do certain tasks, forgetting everyone and everything except the task at hand and my goal in completing it. But I do think about my family at some point of every day. Sometimes I remember them when I watch a TV show or talk to someone on the phone or complete a task a particular way, like the way I learned in my childhood from my parents.
At that moment, I realized that Seven really is growing up and will have her own life one day independent of her sister. I also know that at some point Five will have a similar sort of moment. I think, anyway, that she will. My only hope now is that I can help the girls navigate this transition so that they will always be a part of each other but also realize in a healthy, happy way who they are when they are apart.