Tonight I’ll be celebrating my sister’s, nephew’s and niece’s birthday; it’ll be a family affair, of course. My parents’ household (mom, dad, second sister and myself) and my eldest sister’s household (brother-in-law, eldest sister, their daughter and son) will meet up for dinner at a restaurant, as usual with any of our birthdays. The reason we could celebrate three persons’ birthdays at one sitting is because they all have their birthdays in the same month (so do my mom and dad, their’s are in October). For my niece and nephew, in particular, their birthdays are on the same day, only it’s actually also five years apart. My niece, Minmin (as my second sister and I call her) turns 8 this year; her younger brother Rayan, 3.
Being the youngest child, I had, on a few occasions, thought about what it would be like to have younger siblings. How would it be like to have a younger playmate? was the most frequent question I wondered to myself. I never thought about the responsibility of having to care for the child while he/she was still too young to care for him/herself, never thought about the disagreements he/she might have with me and my two other sisters, never thought about how my actions could influence him/her for better or for worse. In fact, all these responsibility-talk never crossed my mind. Until Minmin came around.
Minmin (her name’s actually Yasmin) was born when I was in Secondary 3. She’s 15 years my junior. My eldest sister chose to stay at our place for the first few weeks since the baby’s arrival, presumably so that she wouldn’t have to care for Minmin all alone, since she was an inexperienced first-time mother, my brother-in-law worked shifts, and my parents are more than happy to spend time with their first grandchild. I would come home from school every day to see the kid lying in the middle of the living room, all wrapped up in a bundle on her little mattress, sleeping most of the time. I would spend more time entertaining myself with her than I would with my homework.
I did poorly for the first term of that year. Of course I knew precisely why – I was just in that lazy, ignorant and care-free (care-less, more like it) mood that had set in after getting into the class of my choice for the year. When parent-teacher session came around, my mother came to meet my co- form-mistress who was also my History and Social Studies teacher. They were discussing the reason for my failing grades, and they looked to me to hear my say. What came out of my mouth, though, I regret to this day.
“The baby at home is too cute, she’s distracting!” :D
D: How could I have said that?! Of course I meant well, I’d even intended for it to be a lousy excuse or a misplaced joke, but my ever-critical mother took it seriously. That very evening, I don’t know what exactly she’d told my eldest sister, but the decision was made for my sister and her baby to move back to their own house as soon as possible. Although they would have moved out eventually, that they did so sooner than intended made it seem as if my thoughtless words had caused them to be unwanted and subsequently kicked out of my house. I was guilty of displacing my own sister and her family.
That was the very first time it occurred to me that not being the youngest in the family anymore meant that some of my words would have its consequences. I cannot afford to push any blame to the younger ones, intentionally or accidentally, because whatever it was, it was definitely no fault of their innocent minds. Especially with a mother like mine who likes to come to her own (usually negative) conclusions about her children and grandchildren’s development and behaviour.
Five years later, Rayan came to be. His arrival planned on the same day as Minmin’s 5th birthday was almost like a birthday present for her from her parents. Oh, what a nice birthday present, a new playmate! most would think, but I could only think of how she now had to be careful with her actions and speech because she would have a lot of influence on her younger brother for a very long time to come. She would have to be responsible for her own actions, no finger-pointing if it was really her fault, and she would be responsible for her brother’s safety during the times when she’s the only person in his presence. I remember wondering if she knew what it meant to be an older sister.
By then, I had subconsciously come to my own conclusions about what it meant to be an aunt. I would be nice when they’re nice, and I tend to ignore them when they want to play their incomprehensible kiddy games without realising it. Even though we don’t live in the same house, I do concern myself over their development. I know I do not have any right to scold them with fiery anger because I am not their mother, but I do what I can when I notice a problem that I foresee would likely escalate into something undesirable. I would attempt to correct them when they’re misbehaving. My second sister does that too, but she’s just much more patient than I am when it comes to them so she seems gentler than I am with our approach to educating the two of them. Maybe it’s because of the unexplainable preference both of them had for her over me when they were each still infants; it probably grew on her to be nice and friendly towards our dearest niece and nephew, while I remain quite neutral towards them and for them.
It almost seems as if I love them less than my second sister does. I know that’s not true, though. Maybe I just have a hard time showing the love? Maybe I’ll ease up when they’re older and come to that age when they think about things at the same depth as I do. I do afterall find it easier to communicate with teenagers than with anyone younger than that. I look forward to being a better Auntie Aishah in the future.