What is it is to be the oldest?

A thousand unspoken 'I love you's. Little arms that give hugs that feel like the whole world has just wrapped you up. Sticky hands cupped to ears to whisper secrets too juicy for moms and dads to ever know. "Play with me" and "Look what I did" and "Can I come, too?" This is the essence of younger siblings.

When they look at you, they don't see the same thing you see in the mirror. They don't see that you are confused about love and life and work and everything. They don't see your stupid hair and the extra ten pounds of fat in your butt. They see the one who baked pineapple upside down cakes with them, and scared the monsters out from under beds in the darkest nights. True fact: They can see you a lot more in you than you see yourself.

Because you were the oldest, you had the privilege of being a teacher, and you didn't even have to go to college for it. You taught them to drive when your parents were too scared to take another minute stalling in the middle of every intersection. You were cool enough to tell them what getting stoned is like and you bought them their first box of Trojans. You taught them a lot, actually, probably more than you know, because they were watching everything you did.

You were sometimes a surregate mom or dad, too. You defended them when the great rat-tail controversy of 1998 happened. You told them what not to do, because you'd done it, and found out the consequence. There were stinky diapers, stories, games of 'horsey', and Candyland. You kissed boo-boos and found that for the first time ever, your lips had healing magic, and your hugs were even better than Childrens Tylenol. You shared almost everything you owned.

In return, they were the bane of your existence. They broke your stereo when they didn't know any better, and then dad told you that they'd never know any better because you would always be the oldest. They asked and whined and pushed for your attention until you wanted to kick them. And sometimes you did. You swore that you'd never forget how they tore up your sticker book and the screaming, because you hated them and they hated you even more. But.

You'll remember:

A newborn in your arms, your eyes meeting and knowing you would love them forever. Being called all sorts of funny versions of your name because little mouths were still practicing their sounds. A million and one grubby kisses and hugs that wrapped around kneecaps. Sharing a blanket in front of the television. Being taken into the secret confidence of a five year old. When fixing SpaghettiOs made you the world's best cook. The unconditional love and admiration in their eyes.

You are lucky. Because you have younger siblings, you are loved, hated, admired, feared, looked up to, rebelled against and questioned. You have to be careful. You shouldn't curse (too much, anyhow), and you shouldn't make life look too scary. You can't leave hot pans or knives around. You have to hold onto teeny hands and make sure that little feet aren't running in front of cars. You are forced into being a better person for them. It's hard work but it's no chore. It's your joy.

The Fine Print:

But don't get me wrong. I have contributed my share of evil big sister moves to my family history. I got one of my brothers to drink a shot glass full of Wesson oil during a game of Truth or Dare. Since most of them are so small, I've found sitting on them a good punishment for when they're not the sweet little angels I'm used to. And I regularly beat the crap out of the little buggers because being the oldest sibling is supposed to be fun, too.

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