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In Praise of Big Sisters

Henry, Violet, and Charlie. | Image Source: Serge Bielanko Private

There are days, of course, when Violet wants nothing to do with her little brothers. And I can’t say I blame her. She’s 7 now and 7 is a big age, a time when all that first grade learning and all that self discovery makes a little girl want a bit of time to herself.

But alone time is tough when you have a Henry, 5, and a Charlie, 2, always following you around.

Still, my oldest kid, I watch her closely, and now more than ever I understand that these two wild fellas who are growing up under their big sister wing are two of the luckiest guys on Earth.

I never had a big sister, and I think it shows. Even now, as I plow through my mid-40s the best I can, I often get this sneaking suspicion that I missed out on a lot without any big sis power in my life. These days when I watch Violet command her brothers’ attention with one of her imagination explosions, with some outlandish tale of baby animals in the woods or why dinosaurs aren’t necessarily extinct, I recognize a look in my sons’ eyes.

It’s a look that’s hard to describe, but it’s there. I can feel it. I know what it is.

It’s respect. It’s admiration. It’s a thousand kinds of love and affection running hard through their rapscallion systems.

And whenever that happens, I know deep in my guts that what is going down right before my eyes is that I am —  quite possibly — bearing witness to the birth of two very real gentlemen. See, when you’re a lad always hanging around the sweet fierceness that is an older sister, then you must be so far ahead of the game in so many ways, in ways I wish I’d known when I was a boy.

I watch her closely, and now more than ever I understand that these two wild fellas who are growing up under her big sister wing are two of the luckiest guys on Earth.
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Violet pulls no punches. Unless of course she has to sock a menacing brother.

Violet stands her ground. Unless of course she sees a little bro who needs a helping hand.

Violet does NOT share her Hershey’s Cookies-n-Cream bar. Except when she does, you see. And when she does, it’s always with the two pain-in-the-neck sidekicks she calls her little brothers, one flanked on each side of her booster seat in the back of the Honda.

“One piece for you Charlie!”

I hold my breath and watch in the rear view.

“And a piece for you too, Henry — but ONLY if you promise not to sing even one more line of that RIDICULOUS song you keep singing! It’s making my brain take a nap!”

***

Putting up with little brothers or sisters is only a small part of the story of any big sister though. There is really so much more than that. Each day when I watch them intermingling, when I lose my breath as I’m hit by the fact that I’m looking at three children I helped create, I find myself in awe of how lucky my boys really are. They have no idea, of course; the magic value of a big sister is lost on kids until much later in life.

But it’s still very real. Henry and Charlie are growing up with a never-ending stream of built-in lessons on how to be dignified and respectful towards girls. That makes me so grateful. Looking back on my own life, I can see clearly how not ever having a sister, especially a big sister, probably worked against me when it came time to try and be a friend or a boyfriend, and then eventually a husband.

I wasn’t that great at any of those roles.

They see their big sister and I can tell by the snap and glow in their eyes that, to each of them, she is the coolest, kindest, smartest little lady they have ever met.
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My single mom was wonderful and strong and loved my younger brother and me so much, and yet I’m quite sure that a big sister in my world would have seen me growing up under the ever-watchful eye of a powerful and important influence.

Now, I understand that there is never any point in immersing yourself in regret over something like the lack of a big sister. In the end, we should all be grateful for the family we did get. Still, it would be untrue if I were to deny that I often wonder things. If a girl had been born before me, would that have helped make my transition to manhood easier or better?

Watching Violet now, I already know the answer to my question. Seeing how she tells her brothers things they don’t know in her excitable voice, her imagination unfurling itself all over their wide-eyed faces, I am blown away by the palpable sense of fortune in the room. They don’t just look at her, they look up to her.

End of story.

***

Think about this: little guys with big sisters are bound to have the sort of admiration and love for girls and women that men ought to have but often lack, even in this 21st century. There won’t be much of a question of gender equality or anything like that when it comes to Henry and Charlie. Not with Violet in their lives.

They see their big sister, and I can tell by the snap and glow in their eyes that, to each of  them, she is the coolest, kindest, smartest little lady they have ever met. They watch their big sister, and they vie hard for her attention. They try to tussle with her and they are met with all kinds of resistance, intellectual and shots in the arm.

They ask her questions and they are given long, thoughtful answers that leave them smiling or, as I’m fond of recognizing, stunned.

These two little brothers take the candy she offers up and my whole world makes sense for a moment or two.

There has only been one big sister in my life but, man, am I glad it was Violet. Am I glad she was the first, and that there are two gentleman of the future flanking her there in the backseat of the Honda as she holds court. Two little dudes sitting there completely unaware of just how lucky they really are.

But I know.

Oh, I know.

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