I groggily opened my eyes, and looked around, trying to figure out what had woken me. My room was dark and appeared empty. And then I heard a tiny little voice coming from the side of my bed. I rolled over and there was my little sister, standing there and looking up at me with that look. She still uses the same look, sometimes. She knows I can never say no to it.
It was the middle of the night and she had to go to the bathroom, but she didn’t want to go alone. Her room was across the hall from mine, and I had an important role to play in this nightly ritual. I had to hold her hand while we walked down the stairs, and then wait outside the bathroom door while she did her thing. Task completed, I would escort her back to bed, and tuck her in.
Another night, another duty performed.
From the moment she entered the world, my life took on a new shape. I knew I wasn’t her parent, but with our age gap, I am fifteen years older than she is, our relationship was never a typical brother/sister relationship. It was always something a little more.
I left for the army when she was five. It was difficult for the both of us. That decision resulted in countless tears over the next six years. Every time I would come home on leave we spent a lot of time together, but then as I was loading my car to leave, or going through airport security, the tears would start, first hers then mine. It broke my heart every single time.
But our bond endured. We spoke on the phone, we wrote letters, and we stayed close.
Even now, years later, we’ve been through our ups and downs, but we are still each other’s favorite people in the world.
Watching over someone for their entire life, you learn a couple of things. The first is that when you care more for someone else than you do yourself, there is no limit to what you will do for that person to ensure they have it easier than you did – to endure their happiness. The second, and sometimes in direct contrast with the first, is that you have to let them make their own decisions, or forge their own path in life, even if you disagree. This was a hard lesson for me to learn.
Transitioning from the role of big brother and coach, confidant and best friend, to that of bystander has been a difficult one. She’s grown now, an adult out on her own in the world. She’s going to college and making decisions that will affect the course of her life for years to come. And I have had to learn to take a step back and watch more than lead, listen more than talk, and bite my tongue more than lecture.
I am proud of who she’s become though. She’s a good person with a great heart and a solid head on her shoulders. I’ve been disappointed, afraid, impressed, and proud of her throughout her years, and I am sure she’s felt all the same toward me. Our relationship has become one of peers rather than mentor/mentee. And while that is bittersweet, it is something special as well.
I’ll always miss the days when she needed help tying her shoes, her hand held in the dark of night, or help with her homework, but that void will be replaced by something new. It’ll be replaced with friendship, mutual respect, understanding, and hopefully years of conversation about taxes, mutual funds, financing terms, and job interviews.
And we won’t always agree. She’s grown into a strong and independent woman with her own voice and own opinions. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s more than OK. I am in admiration of it.
Happy 19th Birthday, Elly.
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Photo credit: The Author