Friday, February 24, 2012

Niblings & Siblings

An fuzzy ultrasound image of a fetus at approx. 12 weeks.
Can you tell what it is yet? No, me neither, but apparently this is a mass of tissue fast developing into a second niece or nephew, ready to depart the Mothership sometime in August.  Check out that brain symmetry! The fetus is obviously a genius.  Well, we do share about 25% of our DNA.

To be honest, it's all a bit weird for nephew Alexander. He is tremendously excited, having lobbied for a sibling over the years, but he'll be six in the summer and he is so very used to being the centre of everyone's attention. He is the only grandchild for both sets of grandparents and has many non-familial uncle and aunt figures who have no children of their own. He lives on the grounds of a boarding school full of older children who treat him as a mascot. He's expressed nothing negative about the new baby - except his fear that he or she may eat his Lego - but he's began to misbehave.

A toddler (Rosie) looking slightly anxious as she holds
a crying baby (me), circa. New Year 1981
So I made a book for Alex about what it means to be a big brother or sister, with photographs of my big sister and I and a rather romanticised account of our childhood together. I included radical gender politics such as
"The main difference between being a big brother like you or a big sister like your Mummy is that brothers and sisters wear different kinds of clothes."
illustrated with photographs of my sister in a ballgown and my sister dressed up as our male school music teacher (even Rosie can't remember what she was doing). My own phase of transvestism was far more prolonged. I wore bow-ties, all the time. Sometime I even wore a cravat.  But then what nine year old girl living in a suburban terrace doesn't experiment with that look? I think I thought I was James Bond.
A small girl (me) makes a face from
behind an older girl's shoulder.

I unearthed a great number of photographs which revealed a lot about both our relationship and the foundation of our different personalities. Rosemary is not a very serious person, but is demonstrably more sensible than I am, and is frequently posed in a sober fashion while I'm pulling a silly face or, more times than I care to admit, posing in a state of undress. I really did like to take my clothes off as a child. Well, Saville Row tailoring can so easily overheat one.

The book naturally omitted the bitter feud between my sister and I which started with a torn poster of Kylie Minogue in1989 and continued unabated for the next six or seven years. Of course, I didn't tear the poster. Why would I? She threatened to dismember my panda unless I confessed.

Illness brought about our eventual entente. In the book I wrote
"When I was almost grown up, I got sick and never got better. Your Mummy helped to look after me. She took messages to my friends and teachers at school.
"Although I couldn't walk properly, I didn't want to use a wheelchair in case people stared at me. Your Mummy encouraged me to use a wheelchair and pushed me in it so that I could go out and have fun again. If people stared at me, your Mummy stared back."
Two small girls and their father with a small canon.
Rosie came through for me, after I got sick, while my folks were still floundering. We'd squabbled throughout our teenage years up to that point, but after that point we rarely argued (the notable exception being one occasion where she made a very hurtful remark and I promptly poured a glass of water over her head). Rosie invited me to spend the weekend with her at university in Southampton and suggested I borrow a wheelchair from somewhere so that she could take me Christmas shopping. I was very nervous but reassured that I wouldn't encounter anybody I knew, or anyone I'd have to meet again. My parents continued to flounder somewhat, until they came to pick me up and the four of us went for a walk in the park together. After that they were sold that a wheelchair was not like a coffin, a symbol of lost hope, something you never got out of, once you got in.

Two teenage girls and their father with a canon on the
ramparts of a fort or castle somewhere.
Having found the above picture of us playing with a canon, I wrote on the next page
"Big brothers and sisters stand up for their little brothers and sisters. If anyone is unkind to me, your Mummy fires a canon ball at them." 
And lo and behold, as I made my way through the photos of a decade later, I found this, another of Rosie lighting an imaginary fuse.  My sister is not only prepared to fire a canon, it's something of a habit with her. So watch out.

1 comment:

Vic said...

Awww, what a lovely post. And top use of "niblings" :)