What they all must have been thinking, as that tiny single engined plane hit the dusty runway on the outskirts of our small country town?
It was a sunny September day; a slight chill in the air. Winter still lingering.
Dad along with our grandparents, my brother David, 12, my eldest sister Lisa 11 and the youngest of the group, Trish who was 6.
They were all huddled together waiting to catch a glimpse of my mum, who they hadn’t seen for over a week. While my older siblings had enjoyed the fish and chips with Dad for dinner and later than normal bedtimes…everyone silently agreed it was time for mum to come home.
I often wonder, how they must have felt when I came home from the hospital that day.
I had entered their world with some complications so was quickly whizzed off in a plane to soar above the bright city lights of ’78, without getting to meet any of them. Despite all of this and my grand arrival via sky, into their tight-knit family unit, I was immediately one of the tribe and I took my position no questions asked; the baby of the family.
SO being the baby, I actually ended up with 3 mothers.
Well sort of.
I had my mum of course; the one who birthed me (and thank goodness that happened), raised, nurtured and loved me. But, she also recruited 2 offsiders, 2 cadets, 2 right hand men.
Those 2 had a lot of input in my upbringing; shaping my sense of identity, where I fit in the world, my sense of humour and any lingering neurosis. They also taught me all about go fish, elastics, roller-skates, slip and slide detergent ratios and what was going on with Boy George. They taught me how much better a trampoline could be with a sprinkler underneath it, how you could even make it more interesting by putting it up on its side and running and jumping on to the mat swinging it down with a thud. They were the main cause of laughter when we were kids, and a main source of tears.
I was forever trying to be one of them, to catch up to them, and they were always up to something, some adventure or bright idea. I followed them gleefully everywhere, wanting to be part of it all, willing my bones to grow so I was not left behind.
It was so hard when I was 4, watching helplessly as they would all march off to school together excited for their day ahead. I would stand at the gate and cry and then head back there at the end of the day, by the old galvanized fence covered in jasmine until they finally returned, dumping their school bags at the door along with my loneliness.
I got my first pair of roller-skates when I was 5 and I attached each one to my feet in seconds. Realising this meant I could now join their pack with the other neighbourhood kids as they skated down to the end of the street, to the ice cream truck and back again.
As soon as I heard that familiar ice creamy music wafting down the road and through our window to find us all, I was up and ready to join them. ‘You don’t want to come with us’ my eldest sister Lisa casually stated, ‘Mr Whippy doesn’t like little kids, he has big fangs and fiery red eyes and big claws’ and with that off they rolled laughing down the street.
I didn’t sleep for weeks, and I hid every time I heard that ice-cream truck tune from then on.
Once I could finally join their school uniformed march to school, they often had to babysit and look after me on the school bus which they hated. They scolded me like little mothers if I didn’t do what they told me to. I would always yell defiantly, ‘you’re not the boss of me’ as they gave me a good chinese arm burn to prove just how wrong I was.
My sisters also had a list of tactics when mum and dad weren’t around. One loved to terrorize me by putting on scary ‘I’m going to kill you’ faces and then switching off the lights, as I screamed with half delight / half fear for my life, as she chased me around the house. The other liked to wrestle me to the ground and pin me so I couldn’t move from the big long string of saliva she had skilfully spat towards my face before sucking it back up again, over and over.
On days when they decided to let me live, we would learn the words of songs together and record our duets on a little tape recorder in my sister’s room. We would include sound effects and jokes and lay across our polly pocket bed spreads and laugh till tears came. When my sister felt she had the directors gig in the bag, she broadened her repertoire, challenging herself to write and direct little plays for us and our cousins to perform together for the adults. She came up with pearlers like Lucy Licks Lollipops ( I was Lucy) and The Moon Men ( I had to be a moon man).
When they had grown bored of impressing the adults, on one particular hot summer day in our back yard; they directed their attention to me. Before I knew what was what, I was told to chew a whole 2 packets of Hubba Bubba bubble-gum – so like 10 pieces were encouraged into my 8-year-old gob and then handed over so we could join each fat, sticky wad together, stretching it to see how long we could get it. That thing went across the back yard and into the paddock next door. We were stoked! I then tried to impress them further by blowing huge grape bubbles, which didn’t go down too well with mum, who ended up cutting it out of my hair. It was worth the warm glow of my sister’s attention though, heating my skin like the sun above us.
There was of course, as with all sisters, major clothes fights too. Mum tried her best to be a UN Ambassador and work a peace treaty but usually ended up siding with me, the baby – which resulted in my teenage sister Trish and I in matching outfits. I was so very happy, my sister was so very not. Things got so bad sharing a room with Trish when she was around 15, she ended up putting a line down the middle of our bedroom from the A-Ha poster to the gold sparkled knobs on our dresser draws; my rainbow bright and care bears and I were not allowed to cross her line and tough sanctions were to be adhered to. I still look back at our bedroom and it sums us both up indubitably; chalk and cheese. She was chalk..and I was cheese. She was neat as a pin, nothing out of place..and well..I was cheese. Trish crossed her line eventually, to braid my hair and sing along to our new Wham record. Soon the line faded and we were a peaceful United States. On nights when I was scared of the wind howling outside, she would come over to my side, get into bed with me and read Dr Seuss to me until I fell asleep.
Despite our bond, the age difference sometimes got to poor Trish especially (being the closest in age to me). I was the pesky little sister, cramping her style. That poor burgeoning, hormonal tween even got given a barbie Ferrari for Christmas at aged 12, just so I would have someone to play barbies with…she was ready to hitch hike it out of that family and boy do I remember her clearly telling me just that. She actually did calm down and end up playing with me though. We sat together for hours doing Barbie hair do’s while she taught me how to spell my first words. Granted it took a while. ‘Trish, what does GRFQP spell?’
‘Nothing, it spells nothing.’
‘What about RFGDSCEI?’
They were and still are the best sisters I could have hoped for.
…despite them telling me all the time I was actually adopted. They used to love telling me the old gigantically fat lady down the road with no teeth, who smacked her kids with a cane rod and who couldn’t walk on account of her being so fat, was my real mother.
They are pretty good though. My sisters; my little mother hens who are still looking after me. There are 2 people I call when things get tough or if something needs to be celebrated. They are the first…even sometimes ahead of my husband and mum..the real one.
I went through a very bad day a few months ago and told a close friend, how I had called only one person, my sister. I was in a fetal position ready to give up on everything. My friend frowned and said ‘I wish I had of known and you called me when you were so upset.’ I smiled, warmly, at her kindness but explained, ‘I can’t help but call my sisters.’
They have been my refuge since the beginning. They are who I crawled under the covers with when the storms rolled in, they are the ones who held my hand all through the night if I couldn’t sleep. They were also the ones who I hid behind as we walked past the rough kids at the bus stop opposite ours..
I still find myself trying to catch up to them, to be an adult just like them. When they talk to each other at the kitchen table and give each other advice, I still notice I take on the role of the baby sister, whingeing to pay attention to me, whining that they ignore me still..
To be honest I don’t really mind all that much now, as being the baby sister comes with a lot of perks. It means mum usually still sides with me…which means I also get out of the washing up 99% of the time too.