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The Third Wheel

Keeping up with the big kids

By Emilee Phillips

“Don’t cry! Don’t cry! Shhhhhhhh,” my siblings would plead while glancing over their shoulders for a looming parent. This was the phrase commonly panic-whispered in our household after one of their “brilliant” ideas. 

“Hey, kid,” my older sister would say, “have you ever tried riding a laundry basket down the stairs?” The house we grew up in had sturdy wooden walls, impervious to laundry baskets. This was good for the walls. Not so good for me.

Siblings are handy for all sorts of things, like teaching you words you didn’t know and weren’t supposed to use, or how to ride a bike — a learning experience that could combine both injury and vocabulary.

I have two siblings, a brother and a sister. They are 10 and 11 years older than me, respectively, which made playtime a bit challenging. I was the laboratory rat used to test their theories, such as: How long was it possible to play hide-and-seek before realizing they weren’t seeking me at all? Or how long could they tickle me before I screamed? I don’t know what this training was for, but at least I developed strong lungs.

Like all who share blood, we messed with each other often. The games frequently involved seeing which two siblings wanted to team up against the other one on any given day, for no particular reason. Who got the last Life Saver would spur an entire wrestling match in the living room. Perks of being so much younger and smaller than them included being able to wriggle into small spaces where they couldn’t reach me. Cons were that all they had to do was sit on me and I was conquered. On the weekends, my cardio was running through the house between my sister’s group of friends and my brother’s group of friends, acting as carrier pigeon for the top-secret messages.

After they went to college, I had to entertain myself. I played dress-up with all the things they left behind until summer break. Making Halloween costumes out of my sister’s dance recital outfits was better than any Spirit Halloween store. My brother’s room was where I went for props.

Christmastime was magical because it meant we were all together. They would make me hot chocolate, snuggle up with me and tell me tales of Santa. “Listen closely and maybe we’ll hear sleighbells,” my sister would say on Christmas Eve. What I didn’t know was that, more than once, my brother climbed up on the roof, bells in hand, just to keep that magic alive. I was in denial about Santa quite a bit longer than my peers because of it.

You must be thinking, “Ah, that’s so sweet!” And it was, but it balances out with the year my sister made me wrap my own Christmas present. She even told me I had to act surprised in front of Mom. I suppose we can chalk that one up to acting lessons.

It could be lonely at times, growing up with siblings who were so much older, but it also gave me a built-in advice panel, tutors (for real subjects), great taste in movies and a sense of adventure from trying to keep up with them. That last bit only added to my mother’s gray hairs.

I’ll admit, it’s hard feeling so far behind them in so many ways. Sometimes it’s like I’m in a race where I can never catch up. Forever the annoying little sister, I’m always looking for ways to be “part of the club.”

We don’t see each other very often anymore, though we have a group text for important things like proving each other wrong, arranging the next gathering, or determining who has the honor of getting Mom socks for Christmas — a happy family tradition.

To my mother’s dismay, my sister and I still occasionally throw ourselves down the stairs aboard various objects. We most recently upgraded to mattress surfing. The walls of her current house don’t hold up quite as well as those of our childhood home. Or perhaps the payload is a bit bigger.

The good news is, these days if tears are shed, it’s because we’re crying with laughter, though we probably still don’t want our parents to know.  PS

Emilee Phillips is PineStraw’s director of social media and digital content.