Being a big sister

Somehow my little sister is 30. This is untenable and I told her in the sternest tone I could muster that she needs to stop growing. I’m not convinced she took me all that seriously.

Her errant aging aside, we celebrated her birthday the best way I know how – we made cake and it was awesome! We produced the most chaotically colourful cake the world has ever seen.


When I think of Sarah, I think of her excitement about colourful, messy projects and the disappointment she exhibits if she realises she is expected to work within carefully considered guidelines when she thought it was going to be fun.

So I was her project manager for this cake based adventure. I crystallised the vision, delineated choices to aid decision making and did the boring neatening, finishing bits. I also provided plenty of daftness (though she doesn’t actually need any assistance in that regard). We made a good team and it was so lovely to be able to give her space to approach it how she wanted.


Finally, then, I’m at peace with being a big sister. Running away from home and family for eight years had the effect of disrupting things a little. I was never easy about my place in the family anyway and I’ve worked to re-evaluate and figure it out since I got back in touch. If we’d had a family motto as I was growing up “duty, sacrifice and quiet desperation” would have summed it up nicely. Looking back, I realise I’ve railed hard against the duty part. I purposefully lost count of the number of times more was expected of me for being the older sibling.

I only twigged last week, though, that Sarah is the first person in our family to have ever given me permission to be overwhelmed and upset by life. She is the first one to ever have accepted my difficulty with the implicitly agreed burden of being consistently functional that we carry in our family. Unlike either of my parents, she has always been able to listen to me cry without needing me to rationalise my feelings and calm down. I discovered that about five years ago and, as I look back, this was one of the first steps on my journey of learning to accept myself and define for myself who I am in the world at large; who I am in our family.

So being a big sister isn’t at all what I thought it was: some kind of protector duty to be shouldered. It is about a relationship built on acceptance of each other and lending her my strengths whenever I can, as she has so generously done with me. It is about being honest with each other. Not pushing myself to display a forced or dutiful love, but loving because it is a choice we make.

Because having her in my life matters to me.



Your foreign correspondent writes …

It is no secret that I travel a lot for work. In fact, I get very excited when I know I have a stretch of a whole week or two of staying within the UK and usually tell everyone I know about it 😉

I often find the travel tiring and stressful. However, that is not to say that I don’t enjoy it. I love the opportunity to be in another country and appreciate the differences between wherever I am and home. I find myself in Brussels a lot and I’ve now discovered a couple of lovely restaurants as well as some beautiful vantage points in the city.

Having a small and mildly odd memento of my trips is all part of the process of discovery and acknowledgement of difference. Something mundane or belonging within a category of mundane things back home can become interesting when encountered abroad.  On my last trip to Norway I picked up a tube of chocolate hazelnut spread from the canteen of the client offices I was visiting.  I just knew my friend Misch would love it and so she did. Last Thursday, in Brussels, I was perusing the breakfast buffet in the hotel and discovered pots of speculoos pasta (or spread). I’ve never seen or heard of it before and have a penchant for sweet things so, naturally, I picked up two pots and put them in my handbag. I did the same thing the next morning. For research purposes, you understand.

It has the consistency of peanut butter and tastes very like those little biscuits often found wrapped up in plastic perched alongside a cup of coffee, with the added benefit that it is smoother and it makes the roof of my mouth tingle ever so slightly. In short, I could happily eat a lot of it. I mentioned my discovery to my Italian colleague who disinterestedly told me you can buy jars of it, as you can peanut butter. And on my weekly shopping trip to Waitrose, guess what I spotted? Jars of the very same stuff. That I’ve been oblivious to all this time. I shouldn’t really find it exotic at all, but somehow I do.

I thought briefly and resolved there and then, on the spot, to NEVER EVER buy a jar of it. The results could be disastrous* as I think its novelty will make it more addictive than Nutella, at least for long enough for me to have demolished several jars.

2014-02-15 14.49.53

*Although I note that this website assures me it contains “good, unsaturated fats” and “is rich in Omega 3”