Ann, our firstborn, was almost five when she became a big sister. She was thrilled to have a baby brother and shadowed me whenever I cared for the baby. She ran to get a diaper when one was needed. She stood by while I bathed the baby so she could help put lotion on him and pat baby powder on his tummy. He was almost two when another baby brother joined the family. Ann was an old pro by then and a big help with the baby but she was also learning that her first brother got into trouble whenever he was out of sight. Much of that trouble included messing with her books or dolls and he wasn't the best guest to include in her tea parties.
He was also very fascinated by the new baby. He shared his toys by trying to drop them into the bassinet. He pulled a chair over so he could climb up to see the baby and would try to climb into the bed with him. He was acting like a two-year-old and she seemed to feel it was her job to protect the baby from him.
Time moved on and by the time she was thirteen she had an infant brother and three others aged 4, 6 and 8. The older ones were proving to be less precious in her eyes with every year. There were lots of good times with them but they could also annoy her big time. The oldest had learned to escape when she was angry with him by locking himself into the bathroom until she forgot about whatever had upset her in the first place.
On one such occasion she sought the help of the youngest of the three. She probably bribed him with bubble gum or something similar. She took him to the piano and taught him three chords. Then she took up a position alongside the bathroom door and signaled him to play those chords. It sounded like she was practicing piano and the errant brother was captured by her when he thought it the coast was clear for him to leave his safe place.
The boys were supposed to help her with the dishes after supper every night. One night they were arguing with one another and she got fed up. She said it was easier and faster to do dishes without them and sent them outdoors. This turned out to be something that happened frequently. As adults they confess that the first time it was an unplanned but pleasant surprise. After that when they didn't feel like helping, they would torment her hoping to be sent away.
The boys gained value in her eyes as they became old enough to help their dad with outside chores and she could stay inside to cook and bake. They heaped praise on her each time she made a batch of sticky cinnamon rolls. One of the boys was heard to lament "We'll never get cinnamon rolls again," the day she left home for college.
At times she became a co-conspirator with them, allowing them to be a little more grown up than we did. We stayed home with the little ones and she took them to a Ma and Pa Kettle movie. We now know they turned their backs on Ma and Pa Kettle Go to the County Fair and saw All The President's Men instead. She also took them to the movie, Towering Inferno, which their dad and I would not have approved thinking it would give them nightmares. As the children grew and matured the petty arguments and competitions became fewer.
Ann was recently brought to tears when the family was sharing stories of growing up together. She learned that the little boy she once taught to play chords on the piano to lure his brother out of the bathroom was very upset when she left for college. He was sad to know his big sister was leaving home and climbed to the highest peak in the barn that day so he could watch the car for as long as possible.
We often wondered how our children would get along later in life having witnessed all the squabbles and hurts that happened during the process of raising our large family. Our hopes were raised the day Ann talked the brother who once hid from her in the bathroom into attending the same college from which she had just graduated. "I want to get to know him as an adult rather than the almost bratty eighth grader he was when I left home," she explained. Seeing the love our children show toward one another and watching them interact as adults has been very rewarding.