Dear Johanna: An Open Letter on Being a Big Sister

IMG_2424Dear Johanna,

It has been nearly a year since I last addressed you on this blog. At that time you were only three years old, and not really aware of computers or the Internet or the way in which these things work to help us connect to friends and family and strangers all over the world. But now you are four years old (a very smart four years old), you ask to Skype with Grandma Jayne and Grandpa Dee, you hog Daddy’s iPad when I am on FaceTime at the dinner table with you, you grab my iPhone and ask if there are any games on it, you swipe the touchscreen like it is as natural as eating with your hands (which I suppose it is). All of that is to say that you are old enough to understand, old enough for what I am about to tell you.

In less than two months there will be a fifth person in your house. She is already in your house, but she is also inside your mom, so it isn’t quite the same. You can’t see her fingers or toes. You can’t hear her laugh or shriek or cry (and cry and cry, as babies are prone to do). She does not yet require the undivided attention of your parents or the interest of others. But she will. And that is something you may struggle to handle.

You are already a big sister and are already learning big girl things about sharing and taking turns, which can be very hard to learn and sometimes does not sink in even after little boys and girls become big boys and girls, big enough to have very valuable and necessary resources that really ought to be shared with others. You have even learned to share a room, which will make the transition to camp and college and living in San Francisco easier for you in the future. But up until now you have only had to share with Little Brother, who was born over two years ago, when you were still quite small yourself, and far less aware of the way that the world would change when he came on the scene. I daresay that it will be different with Little Sister.

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You are excited to see her. I know because you told me that night I was putting you to bed and you didn’t really want to go to sleep (which didn’t surprise any of us). You were curious about how Josephine would get out of Mommy’s stomach (though she is actually in Mommy’s uterus, not Mommy’s stomach), but mostly you were just curious about Josephine. You had been praying for her and talking to her for many months. Now, you were ready to see her and meet her.

I have never had a little brother, Johanna, but I have a little sister. (You remember Aunt Abbie? You were a flower girl in her wedding. She buys you international ornaments for Christmas and has bright blue eyes and light blonde hair, just like you. Well, she is my little sister). I was three when she entered my life, a little younger than you are right now, but old enough to notice how very different the world became. You may not remember how things were before Josiah was born, but you will probably remember what it was like before Josephine, and for the rest of your life you will know what it is like after.

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Life with three children will be different. You will outnumber your parents 3:2. This can be great fun and is often in your favor (especially if you can get Little Brother and Little Sister to follow your lead, and knowing you, I am sure that you will), but it can also be hard, especially as the oldest. There will probably be times when your brother and sister will be carried or held and you will be expected to walk or to stand. It isn’t that you are less loved, but rather that you are bigger and stronger and being invited to embrace your independence (which you fight for pretty hard already). There will be times that Mommy and Daddy are busy changing diapers and warming bottles and you will be encouraged to play on your own. You are not being excluded, even though it might feel this way. You are actually being given the special alone time that you need to cultivate your creativity. As you get older this will be harder to find. There may also be times when Josiah and Josephine team up on you two-to-one. There may be times when they are engrossed in Curious George, Daniel Tiger or some other such show that you will have outgrown. They might join forces in grade school pageants after you have already moved onto middle school, and even though you will be so proud of how grown up and capable you are, you may secretly deep down feel left out of being small. That is okay too. Just be careful that you do not let your hurt turn to fear or your fear turn to anger.

IMG_2455You are uniquely positioned to have very special relationships with both of your siblings. Already Josiah is mimicking your every move, following you around the house, repeating your words and dancing circles around you. I expect that Josephine will do the same, that she will admire and adore and want to be just like you. (I cannot guarantee how long this will last, but if your experience is anything like mine, it will be for at least a little while). The challenge of having a mini-me who is also a girl is that you may become protective and defensive of your own unique identity. With Josiah it is different. In addition to being louder, gentler and more submissive than you, he is also a boy, which will always set him apart. Josephine is not. All of the special “girl things” that you have and are and enjoy are things that you may have to share with her:  being a princess, dancing in dresses, special dates with Daddy, girl time with Mommy, having Grandma Jayne paint your fingernails and put your hair in sponge rollers. I know, Jo, that it can be hard to share. You can talk to me about that any time.

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If you are lucky, your little sister will love you so much that she will come and visit you and you will ride bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and eat overpriced poached eggs and then (because you love her too) you will take a ferry back when her knee starts to hurt.

But there are also wonderful things about having a little sister. They can be very good at making you feel special. They are amazed by the big girl things that you can say and do years before they are able. They are often willing to play the minor roles in which you cast them while playing pretend. They think you are very smart and are prone to believe whatever you tell them (even if it is that they were adopted or that your mother used to be a genie), at least for a time. They are good partners in crime when you are hatching an ill-fated plan. They are good scapegoats to have when you need to share the blame. They will teach you about sharing and laughing and intimacy and trust. But most of all, a sister is a friend that you will have for life, at least she will be if you take care of her.

IMG_2034And that is what I challenge you with at the ripe age of four—to take care of your little sister and to treat her like a gift, even when she seems like a nuisance, even when you wish she would go away, even when you would rather have a puppy, even when you are tired of being dressed in matching outfits or getting the same gifts for Christmas or sharing a bedroom or being called by the wrong name. Even then, remember that sisters are very special and not everyone gets to have them.

I will be thinking of you as you prepare to grow up just a little bit more. I will be hoping that you welcome Josephine with open (and steady) arms. I will be here for you anytime you want to talk about being a big sister.

Much love always,
Auntie Amanda

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