When I was born, Jill was ten. She had spent approximately seven of those years praying for a little sister. She was sick of brothers. Or rather, she was sick of having her crayons eaten and she was sick of the heads of her My Little Ponies being twisted off, and she was sick of the ceaseless horsing around that came from a testosterone fuelled household.
She, like I turned out to be, was an indoors kid. She liked Jane Austen, and she liked making Emma Thompson scrapbooks, and it was about time that someone was around to appreciate that.
When our mother was pregnant for the fourth time, Jill decided that the sister she had prayed for had finally arrived. The ultrasound said different: news that my parents had to break to her with the utmost care. She was getting another brother. What happened next has gone down in family mythology as a shining example of Jill’s most inherent trait: simply, there is no point arguing with her.
Once that foot is down, it’s staying there. Jill said no to another brother. The ultrasound was wrong. Something or someone heard her, and I was born.
Despite the miracle of my conception, it took us a while to get around to being proper friends. A ten-year age gap will do that to siblings. Sometimes I think that it was hard for her to watch me grow up, given the amount of dump-laden nappies of mine she undoubtedly changed. Me hitting puberty and running around with boys came as a shock to her. It was something she was perpetually surprised by, like that molded-over cup of tea you keep forgetting to take out of your bedroom.
Now, at 22 and 32, we’re finally in a place where we can both be considered proper, adult women, with opinions on stuff. Except it’s my turn to be perpetually surprised: because four months ago, my sister became a mother.
It was yet another example of Jill getting her way: she said no to a son, and lo, she had a daughter—Robin.
Given that I live in the UK and she’s in Cork, it took me until this weekend to actually get around to meeting my niece. Meeting her was like meeting a celebrity: someone everybody talks about, and who is much smaller than you expect.
“Hello,” I said, tentatively.