Family responsibility from the perspective of an oldest sibling

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I am the oldest of five children. That’s a lot of dishes to do. But I do them. That’s also a lot of laundry to fold. But I fold it. That’s also a lot of crying, complaining and whining. But that doesn’t matter to me. 

Six years ago, it was just me and my sister. I could’ve never guessed that I’d have three little brothers running around the house. Our family has grown, and, consequently, so have my responsibilities, especially during quarantine with everyone at home. However, that doesn’t change the fact that being a big sister is my most cherished duty.

But don’t get me wrong, being an older sibling is not glamorous.

Last week, Parker, who turns six next Thursday, called me a “pathetic old lady” and squirted me with water. Quinten, who is four, routinely ambushes me with a plastic sword. You wouldn’t expect it to cause bruises, but trust me: it does. Stone, who is only one, has made it a habit to screech every time I come near him; I have no clue why.

I find dirty socks in the bathroom and plastic lizards on my bed. I’ve been scared half to death by one of them jumping out from a dark corner yelling “you just got bingoed!” I’ve changed dozens of foul-smelling diapers.

More than once, my sister and I have sentenced the boys to “tickle time” for their injustices to us, including the time when Parker attempted to spray me with Lysol. But, despite the chaos they cause, family can unlock a special place in our hearts.

Because, while Parker can be vicious with his sassy remarks, he is also tender in a way that only young children can be. Cuddled up next to me on the couch, he loves to explain the kids’ TV shows that he watches, a glimmer of excitement in his eyes. Because of this, I’ve found myself way too invested in Power Rangers: Dino Charge.

But surprises like that occur often as an older sibling.

The night before I left for a week in Washington D.C., he insisted on tucking me in before I went to sleep. He climbed into my bed next to me and sang a lullaby. When he thought I was sleeping, he kissed my nose and said, “I love you, Maddie.” 

Sometimes I wonder if they really understand how much I love all of them. And I’m not just talking about my brothers. I wonder if my younger sister realizes it, too. Beyond all of the bickering and roughhousing and lecturing, there is a love for them, as deep as the ocean.

It’s in the little moments that I am reassured that they know. It’s in those moments that all of the teasing and messiness is forgotten.

My heart is in their tiny — but always sweaty — hands.