Caroline and the eight-year attitude adjustment


I was seven years old when my mom announced she was pregnant, though it was obvious by that time, from all of my parents’ “subtle” hints. Until then, I had been an only child. A neurotic only child; I didn’t like change.

“Touch the bump!” Mom would tell me. “It’s moving. That’s your baby sister!”

I didn’t want to touch the bump.

Or, reading a baby book, “This is what it looks like now,” my dad would say. “Don’t you want to see?”

I didn’t want to see.

“Help us decorate the nursery,” they implored. But I didn’t want to help. Instead, I drew “No babies allowed” signs and taped them to my bedroom door.

Frustrated and unable to reason with me, my parents outsourced the task of pumping me up for New Baby Brewton to friends and relatives. They were, by all accounts, completely out of ideas.

“It’ll be someone to play with,” one aunt offered.

I had enough friends.

“It’ll teach you to share,” my grandmother said.

That was the last thing I wanted to hear.

“Would you rather have a puppy, or a baby sister?” one of my Dad’s — childless — colleagues stupidly asked.

Two weeks later, I received a Pomeranian mix. Four months later, I got a baby sister.

The puppy was a nice distraction, but what I really wanted was for my life to return to its old shape and form. My parents had naively promised that nothing would change, but I knew better. I was being pushed out of the center of the universe, and I wasn’t happy. I didn’t want change, I wanted new toys and a monopoly on my parents’ affection. I sighed and gave up my life as irrevocably ruined, moping through the duration of Mom’s pregnancy.

The day the baby arrived, I was in school. The principal knocked on the door of my second grade classroom, whispered something mysterious to my teacher, and left. My teacher arranged her face into a big smile.

“Everyone congratulate Caroline!” she said. “She’s going to have a new baby sister today!”

I rolled my eyes.

“Pray for me,” I whispered to my best friend as I was ushered out of the room and away. At least I got out of school early. I preferred to sulk in private.

The  first few weeks post-baby were uncomfortable and different. Take Mom, for example: She had always been friendly and affectionate, but not mushy. Now, she was a romance novel heroine, a Disney Princess, a Hallmark card dripping with juice. The baby’s every move was cause for celebration. I didn’t understand.

“Caroline, she BURPED,” she would exclaim with the enthusiasm of Oprah Winfrey on a give-away day. Or, “She only threw up A LITTLE of her formula on my shirt!” Prudish, I was turned off by my normally dainty mother’s enthusiasm in the bodily functions of her newborn.

In fact, the baby’s arrival fundamentally changed her, as recent motherhood does, and my little world was shaken. Normally the first up, she began sleeping late. And normally the first to bed, she spent long nights walking the halls with the screaming blob of pink flesh that was the new baby. Dad, I think, tried to stay out of the way. I spent a lot of time hiding under my desk, wishing for soundproof walls. No one tells you just how loud a new baby will be. 

The sudden noisiness of my house wasn’t the only problem. I was very calculating. In my selfish assessment, the new baby would occupy a large portion of my parents’ affection, attention and bank account. I was jealous. But I was also right: ​S​he did all of those things. I hoped with all the intensity of a spoiled child that she would grow up to be frustratingly average.

As time passed, she morphed from an abstract object of displeasure into a human being with actual dimensions to her personality, and I realized that all of those things I thought I wanted before were wrong. I just wanted her to do better, be better than I was. Happier. That’s what happens when you love someone. And I do love her. She crept up on me.

Sometimes, though, when I see her doing something stupid, I think I’d like to strangle her with her purse strap. Then my eyes catch her eyes, and I know she’s thinking the same thing.

That’s what sisterhood looks like.