Birthdays in lockdown – the latest of curious experiences in these most curious of times.
And not my own. If I have to spend my birthday still in lockdown the world will be in a very grave situation since it’s not until that remotest of months, December. And if we have to be grateful for anything at the moment (apart from the fact of hopefully not falling ill – naturally – and the NHS, key workers et al )it’s that we are experiencing all this in late spring and early summer rather than in the darkest of dark times of the year with only sociable Christmas to sustain us.
But back to the birthday curbed by social distancing and self-isolation and all those other phrases that were remote from us all until the past couple of months. (and I loathe them both – finding the oxymoronic nature of one and the somewhat pointless addition of ‘self’ to the word ‘isolation’ to be considerable irritants – but that’s just fussy, pedantic me)
To my older sister’s birthday to be precise.
A ‘celebration’ marked by an online meeting with family as well as various other zoom ‘parties’ she held for her endless good friends – if anyone can overcome the limitations of social distancing it will be my sister who is the most gregarious and friendship-embracing person there is -her natural habitat is the very opposite of social distancing in a normal world – she represents its paradox!
There are just the two of us so obviously we fall into older and younger.
And I don’t know about brothers since we don’t possess any, but that hierarchy, the sense of the older and wiser, younger and inevitably more foolish and naïve, never leaves me. Whatever age we are.
I spent the first twenty and more years of my life being desperately, socially very shy. So the obvious thing for me to do was to hide behind my confident, outwardly assured big sister. And I did. With enormous gratitude. I managed to get a holiday job in a shop because she was already working there. I managed to join the church drama group (yes – we led really decadent lives in suburban Northwood in the late 60s and early 70s!)because she joined first. In other words, I needed to be in her shadow. It allowed me to pretend to be as socially self-possessed as she was.
And although inevitably life events and careers and challenges – all those kind of rites of passage that have to be confronted by chance or choice – shaped me into being less timid and inadequate, the sense of dependence on my older sister has never waned.
And not a dependence now of the practical type – but for approval.
I still need to think that she approves and endorses what I do. All the time. In fact, once parents are lost, it feels to me as if the mantel of some sort of moral compass passes down to the most senior child – a kind of inheritance, if you like. I look to her the way I used to look, lovingly, admiringly, towards my parents for their acceptance. Their understanding.
Do all younger sisters feel like this? Does position within a family hold sway for life? I’ve heard that being the middle child out of 3 is confusing with neither the seniority of the eldest nor the indulgence of the youngest to play upon.
And what happens in huge families? Our maternal Grandmother was the oldest girl in a family of 8 children and always used to say that she chose to have just one child herself as she had spent years helping to bring up all the younger ones in the family. Of course that was the natural course of events in the first decades of the 20th century – but do older girls in large families still feel a certain maternal role for younger siblings?
Then there are only children. Like my son. I remember my mother who was an only child used to say that strong close friendships became substitutes for the connection that was absent – or if there are first cousins, as in my son’s case, perhaps they replace in some way the lack of a sibling. I like to think so.
Of course not all siblings are close in the first place which always seems to me such a loss of one of the potentially best relationships to be found.
Few of my friends have sisters and they are all, without question, hugely envious of me with mine. You are so lucky, they constantly say to me. And always I agree. Wholeheartedly. I am.
As for lockdown birthdays …..well, certainly not as good as the real thing.
But as a substitute – with the technological wonders of Zoom meetings, the facility of shopping for presents online, the strong bonds of friendship and, most important of all, the sense of enveloping and all-encompassing love from family, a lockdown birthday seems to be survivable. As good as it gets. Given the circumstances.
Besides, with a true birthday celebration on hold for a while, it’s surely an excuse to avoid an accrued year – just alter the birth certificate to acknowledge the fact!