Big Brothers And Little Sisters

Dear Older Brothers,

I want to tell you some things about my sisters.

My first sister is named Jessica. She is independent and stubborn. She and I almost ran away from home when we were less than three years old. I climbed on top of a tiny plastic chair and undid the latch to the front door. Jessica held the chair so I wouldn’t fall. I opened the door and stepped out with her following me. We waddled to the driveway in our diapers just as a car pulled up and ended our bid for freedom. Our grandmother was a whirlwind of movement as she grabbed us and dragged us back into the house. We cried and she put us in our room until we stopped. The thing is, only I stopped. Jessica kept going. I fell asleep with tears on my face. When I woke up, Jessica was still pounding on the door with her tiny fists, screaming at the top of her lungs.

I have a second sister, Mariah. She’s rambunctious and willful. She sat in her carseat and kicked the back of my dad’s seat as he drove. He told her to stop. Once. Twice. The third time he told her, he pulled over to the side of the road, opened the driver-side door, whipped Mariah out of her carseat with dexterity that was almost superhuman, and spanked her. He placed her back in her seat and she stopped kicking his chair. She cried, but never made a sound.

My third sister is Isabela. She is empathetic and courageous and, our mother says, the most like me. One night, Isabela started crying in her sleep. I heard her first, so I got out of bed to see what was wrong. I picked her up, rubbed her back, and laid her down again. She was five or six and I was fourteen or fifteen. I’m not sure if she remembers this. Four years later, after my dad and I got into another fight, I refused to eat dinner. I slammed my bedroom door shut and laid down in bed. Tiny footsteps approached my room and Isabela peeked in before opening the door all the way. She walked in and asked if everything was OK, the only one brave enough to enter an angry teenage boy’s room. Maybe she does remember.

Mia is my fourth sister. She is determined and playful. The second summer I spent at home, I watched her in gymnastics class. Mia landed a perfect triple flip, adjusted her ponytail, and went to get a drink of water, like it was nothing. In a softball game, a ball bounced on the ground and hit her square in the face. She didn’t cry until she reached the dugout—and only then because our dad gave her permission.

A friend once asked me, “Eric, what are you gonna do when your sisters get interested in boys?”

To which I promptly said, “Pray for those boys.”

This isn’t because of anything I’ll do. It’s a common theme in movies—big brother rushes to protect his little sister from some loser and smothers her with overprotective love. My sisters don’t need protection because they are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves when it comes to love (except Mia—she’s only nine). Let’s amend that. They can take care of themselves. The end (except Mia—she’s only nine).

If growing up with four sisters has taught me anything, it’s that girls don’t need protection. They don’t need to be sequestered in tall towers waiting for their princes and knights. They don’t need husbands to defend their honor. They don’t need good-intentioned fathers sitting on the porch with a shotgun while their dates come up the walk. They don’t need younger brothers as chaperones. And they definitely don’t need older brothers to intimidate the boys they like.

You want to protect them—in fact, you need to. Your parents have been telling you “watch your sister” ever since you can remember. So you watched her. You watched as she climbed a slide’s ladder and caught her when she stumbled. You watched her as she ran along the edge of a pool, despite your mother’s instructions, and she made a mean face at you when you told her to stop. You watched as your dad yelled at her (for something she needed to be yelled at for) then cried and called you the favorite—and you had to explain that there are no favorites, that you’re just too afraid to push boundaries the way she does. You watched and watched and watched.

And I’m here to tell you that, eventually, the time for watching ends. If she stumbles, she can catch herself. If she runs, she knows she can handle the fall. If someone yells at her, she can yell right back. The relationship changes and this is something you need to accept.

I have one sister who is finishing up college, one sister who is just starting, one sister in the middle of high school, and one sister almost at the end of her elementary education. Each relationship is different. Trying to make all the relationships the same would mean destroying them all. My sisters all need something a little different from me. Jessica appreciates my company (without unsolicited advice) and, because we’ve always viewed each other as equals, we’re more like friends than anything else. As Mariah enters college, she has gained a new appreciation for what I’ve accomplished. Where once there was only love, there is now respect, and I was one of the people she asked for advice about college. Isabela and I think alike. I have never, ever had to explain a joke or comment to Isabela. She gets me. And I get her. Mia likes to play games. I’m trying to enjoy the moments before adolescence sets in and tricks her into thinking board games are lame.

This is what I’m trying to say: Love your sisters. Protect them when it’s appropriate and learn when it’s not. Be honest when they make you mad. Be kind when they apologize. Comfort them if their hearts break, but don’t go on a rampage. She’s come to you, her brother, not you, her protector.

And brothers can do a whole lot more than knights or princes.

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How do you feel about protecting your siblings? Tell us below in the comment section or tweet us @litdarling

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