Sister Sister

I still remember the day when I found I was going to have a sister. I was at an extended family dinner at my uncle’s restaurant, which, at the age of 12, was something I absolutely hated through no fault of anyone else. As I stood in the corner and passed my boredom with people watching (this was before the age of cellphones, not to mention social media), my aunt came over to chat. She asked all the usual questions about life school, not slightly deterred by my typical teenage responses. Then at some point in the conversation she dropped the bomb: “Are you excited about your new baby sister?”

I was disoriented for a bit. Perhaps I thought she confused me with another cousin? I thought. I’m not quite sure what I said, possibly something to cover the fact that I did not in fact know I was going to have a baby sister. Then when she left and I got to process it more, I became quite furious at the fact that my parents had not asked for my permission before having another child! Having been an only child for 12 years, it is only natural that I would assume that permission should have been sought before this important decision was made which would turn my life upside down.

I don’t quite remember the conversation with my parents regarding this complete disregard of my feelings. Life didn’t change much for me during the pregnancy. From a young age, I had enough maturity to understand that if you can’t change the outcome, there is no point in holding a grudge. Also, as an immigrant teenager struggling to survive middle school, I had plenty of problems to deal with on my own (like finding a lunch table to sit at instead of eating on the steps outside of school by myself). The only concession I asked of my parents was the naming right to this new addition to our family. I had chosen the name Julie for myself and had somewhat started to regret the commonness of it. I saw the chance to choose a name for my sister as an opportunity for redemption.

I stayed home the day my mom went to the hospital. It was the middle of the night when they left, and by the time someone came to get me, the baby was already born. When I met her for the first time, I just thought she was quite ugly with her pear shaped head, puffy eyes that won’t open, and wrinkly pink skin. It wasn’t even a nice shade of pink, it was kind of the purply-pink that you would never use in any kind of artwork. My biggest reaction that day to was to the nameplate — to my horror, my parents had not given her the name I chose, Katherine (with a K because it looks so much better in cursive than a C), but named her Annie. So very plain, and not sophisticated like Katherine! But that was the name on her birth certificate and once again, I felt slighted. Much later I found out that they had merely forgotten the name I chose because it was too complicated, and TBH that was probably a good thing because I no longer think Katherine is a cool name. But anyway, to the twelve year old me that was a despicable crime.

Life changed quite dramatically when Annie came home. First of all, the four of us lived in a one bedroom apartment, so I could only get away from the crying baby so far. Second, my mom had to go back to work a week or two after delivery, so guess who gets to take care of the baby after school? Thankfully, our downstairs neighbor was a stay at home mom with twins my sister’s age, so she agreed to take care of Annie during the day when no one else is around. It’s pretty amazing to me now that one woman can take care of three newborn babies at the same time, especially when friends have told me how difficult it is to just take care of one baby.

I did not enjoy life for a while. I had just finished my first year of school in the US, and while I caught up academically, I still had few friends. I lacked confidence to meet new people, and now, I also lacked time. On weekends, my parents paid me $1 to babysit for an entire day. I mean, technically I was only 13 or 14 years old and probably should not have been left alone with a toddler. But mom and dad were working weekends because there was another mouth to feed and I no longer had the luxury of being a petulant single child. Babysitting sucks though. I remember one time I gagged while changing diapers (it was an especially bad batch) and my mom yelled at me because she thought I was pretending. I went to bed and cried because I thought life was just too unfair and parents just don’t understand how much personal sacrifice I had to make even though I had no say in the decision.

Baby Annie grew up quite quickly though, and soon she was toddler Annie. I have to say, Toddler Annie was pretty cute. She now had a normal shaped head and huge eyes and tiny dimples on both sides of her face. Her skin was soft and she had chubby limbs that I liked to play with. The best thing is, she is now potty trained!! I don’t miss diapers. I sometimes think having a baby sister has turned me away from wanting children because I never want to change another diaper again in my life. Mom would dress her up in frilly dresses and she would look like a princess. I have to say this was the time I thought she was the cutest.

Wait… Actually this was when she was the cutest. Maybe.

The next few years went by quickly. By the time Annie was in elementary school, I already headed off to college. Cool college students do not need toddlers trailing around them. By now I had a steady group of friends and was beginning to ask questions about who I was and who I wanted to be. I still lived at home, with a comfortable scholarship and part time job that gave me disposable income for the first time (yeah, it was hard to save up all those $1 from babysitting). I bought terrible clothes (as you can see) and changed hobbies frequently. This was the period when I thought of Annie as a cute pe(s)t that I occasionally played with when I didn’t have other plans.

After college I left for Japan and Annie continued to grow. I think I was still a cool older sister for a while, but I was too busy figuring out what I wanted out of life. I always felt the sense that my self-realization was stunted, because I didn’t really start to explore who I want to be until a few years after college, where everyone else had a much better idea early on. It’s probably not true, but at the time, I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do. Before I knew it, Annie was already in high school, and it was no longer cool to have an old sister who was almost 30 (that’s like… retirement age!). While she was being a teenager that I once was, I was yelling at her like my parents once yelled at me. Mostly because my parents didn’t yell at her quite as much because they no longer have the energy to, and I felt like I needed to take their place.

I spent my late twenties exploring the world and finally moved away from Texas. While I was away, Annie somehow made it to senior year of high school, and I started to wonder where the years went and regret all the things we never got to do as sisters because I was more like the third parent. But by then she was heading to Philadelphia and I was halfway across the world in Shanghai. I wrote her a book (literally) for graduation with all the sage advice I could muster by having gone through 13 more years of life, but I had a feeling she was already ahead of where I was at her age.

When she visited Shanghai in 2014, we finally got to take our first sisters only trip together. We went away for a weekend to Xitang, a tiny water town outside of Shanghai, and did all the touristy things. We had not planned to stay overnight, but we booked a little room overlooking the river, and talked like friends. For the first time ever, our age gap was no longer an uncrossable chasm, and we were finally able to meet somewhere in the middle.

It has taken a long time to get here, and while I’m still a little regretful for all the times I was not there, I’m glad to see the amazing woman my sister’s grown up to be. People tend to argue whether we look alike or not. I’m not sure if that matters much. I’m happy we share a common sense of adventure, independence, and (I must begrudgingly admit) childishness (that we got from our mother). I’m also happy that our distinctive experiences make us unique individuals that can learn from each other. So I guess after all these years, I can finally forgive my parents for bringing a sister into my life 😛

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