What’s more challenging than playing the snare drum in an honors music recital before a packed audience, having a part in a musical before the entire school, traveling without a parent on a patrol trip, earning a certificate for faithful attendance, making the Principal’s List for straight A’s, receiving an acknowledgement from the President of the United States for academic achievement, getting promoted to the sixth grade, and turning 11 following that elementary school graduation?
Being the eight-year-old sister who has to watch it.
It’s a tough time to be a second grader (correction: rising third grader). It’s a quiet time in childhood when nothing spectacular goes on. With the exception of being toothlessly cute, it’s a boring phase worsened by the fireworks that accompany every move a fifth grader (correction: rising sixth grader) makes.
It really has been All Ava All the Time. Maryn has been a respectful spectator to the celebrations and coming-of-age occasions that shine a special light on her older sister. Well, until last night when Maryn hauled off and smacked her.
Mike and I were downstairs engrossed in the final episode of Mad Men when we heard grumblings in the upstairs bedroom. One voice got higher. A second voice got louder. Something crashed. Someone cried.
We raced each other up the stairs and burst through the doorway of the girls’ bedroom. The fingerpointing had begun. Ava held her face. Maryn held her stomach.
They had traded blows like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed.
“WHAT HAS GOTTEN INTO YOU TWO?” bellowed Mike. Not to be outdone, I chimed in with my own hysterics.
The girls stepped on top of each other’s stories in an attempt to make their injuries sound more fatal.
“I got slapped!” Ava cried.
“I….got….hit….in the….stom….ach!” Maryn gasped.
Mike and I took our competitors to the corners of the ring. Maryn climbed onto my bed and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. She sucked air and wailed some more.
After eight rounds of “And Then What Happened”, the fight was declared a draw. It started over a pillow. It ended with the loss of electronics.
“You cannot act like this,” I told Maryn as she sniffed away tears crawling down her cheeks. “If you can’t solve the problem with words, then you come to your dad and me and let us decide. But you have no right — no right — to physically hurt each other.”
She sat quietly, straining to hear the interrogation across the hall.
“You’re sick of her, aren’t you?” I began. Maryn looked at me, surprised. “She’s gotten all the attention for weeks, and you can’t stand it, can you?”
She shook her head no. “You’re tired of hearing how great she is, how pretty she is, how well she’s done, how far she’ll go….am I right?”
She nodded her head yes.
“You’re mad. You’re jealous. Am I right about that, too?”
She nodded her head yes again.
“And your time will come. I promise you that. You’re going to have everything she has, and then some, because you’re the baby. You’re our last child. All of this will come to an end once you become a fifth grader. Childhood wraps up with you.”
She wiped her nose again and bobbed her feet against the mattress.
“She’s good at a lot of things, but so are you,” I continued, opening the drawer of the nightside table. “Sure, she can play the xylophone and she can do The Cup Song, but you…you’re good at art!”
I pulled out a self-portrait that Ava had drawn in the second grade. “Look at this!” I tapped the picture colored with crayons and edged in smudged #2 pencil. “This kid doesn’t have a neck!”
A chuckle escaped from Maryn’s throat.
“And here! Look! She drew Ringo,” I said, pulling out a sketch of our silver tabby cat. “Have you ever seen an animal with eyes that far apart?”
She laughed harder.
So it’s unorthodox to poke fun at one kid to make the other one feel better. But I had to lighten the moment. Sure, our rising middler schooler is good at lots of things and she’s been decorated for it, but her life is about to change. She’s not going to be such a big fish in a small pond. She’s going to be a minnow in an ocean of sharks and killer whales.
“And when you’re in third grade — intermediate…no longer primary school — she’s going to wish for everything that you still have. She’ll no longer have extra playtime outside, Halloween parades, Valentine parties, COSI assemblies, or trips to the Clay Center. Those days are over.”
Don’t be envious, I preached. Every daughter has her day. A round of applause for one child may be a standing ovation for another. And as hard as it is to play the role of little sister, the sidekick is often the one who steals the show.