OPINION COLUMNS

Life as an older sister (or how my sister is much cooler than me)

By Racey Burden | Published Wednesday, May 11, 2016
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Racey Burden

Rylie Burden and Racey Burden

My little sister is graduating from high school next month, and it makes me feel a little bit sad and also a lot older than I actually am.

Rylie and I are four-and-a-half years apart. I remember the day she was born in that blurry, disjointed way that you recall memories from your early childhood – I’m not sure how much of that day is in my own memory and how much of it I was told later.

Racey Burden

Racey Burden

It was January of 1997. We’d just moved to Liberal, Kan., a few weeks before, and my parents didn’t really know anyone in town very well. When my mom began experiencing contractions, my parents bundled me in the truck and took me to stay with one of my dad’s coworkers. They didn’t have anywhere else to take me until my grandparents could get there from Oklahoma.

I was little, and terrified of the dark, and I remember the bed they put me in had blankets tucked in tight at the corners, so tight I couldn’t pull them over my head. I always slept with the blankets over my head to keep the monsters at bay. So I didn’t really sleep that night due to a combination of fear and excitement.

That’s all I really remember of the day my little sister was born. I don’t recall meeting Rylie, or my first impressions of the baby that had ruined my four-year streak of only child bliss. The next clear memories I have of her are about a year later, when I got chicken pox and passed it on to her. She cried a lot.

Rylie also got injured a lot. She rocked her baby carrier off a table once, and Mom and I took her to the hospital in the middle of a massive storm, with tornado sirens blaring. She ran into a wall in the church nursery one Sunday, and I waited with family friends while my parents took her to get stitches. I remember the angry red gap, stitched up in black on her forehead. She still has that scar. I thought she was dumb for running into a wall, and 6-year-old Racey said as much.

Between her injuries and sudden sicknesses that would just pop up, my parents say they spent more time in the hospital with Rylie than they have with both my brother and I combined. But she always ended up fine.

I’m sure that at some point when we were little, I was jealous of her stealing my parents’ attention from me, but the first time I remember feeling jealous of her, truly jealous, was when we moved to Texas.

I was 12 and in sixth grade. I was terrified, and even though no one was mean to me, I knew from the beginning it would be difficult to break into any clique. Kids that age are generally already in well-established friend groups.

Rylie was in second grade, and, forever the social butterfly, she made so many friends almost instantaneously that my parents joked they didn’t know how we could be related. I both envied and admired the way little Rylie never met any stranger she wasn’t sure she could turn into a friend.

She stayed like that as we got older – she was forever going places with other kids, inviting them to take over our house. But she always wanted my attention, too. Rylie would beg and beg me to play with her. As she would gladly tell you, I was not the best older sister – I might have agreed to play with her, but only if we always did whatever I wanted to do. She would always relent for the chance for us to spend time together.

I’m not sure when we stopped playing together. Maybe when I got to high school and felt constantly too old and too smart to play dumb kid games. Rylie continued to float in her own middle school orbit of popularity, and I devoted all my time to my geeky extracurriculars.

I do recall one time in high school when I felt particularly, fiercely attached to her – some boys, being stupid, started spreading a vicious, untrue rumor about Rylie. She was devastated. Our parents were out of town the week it came out, and I skipped my first period to take her to the assistant principal’s office, so she could tell him about the boys and their rumor. She cried. I was furious. I wanted to find those boys, pull them by the ears to their parents, demand they apologize to my sister, demand their parents raise their children better. I don’t recall feeling that protective of anyone before or since.

Then I went to college, and I remember wishing once again that walking up to new people with confidence was a trait I could just borrow from my little sister. I would try to approach social situations like she would – boldly, like there was no reason anyone could find not to want to know me. Sometimes it worked.

I don’t know when exactly I began to think of Rylie as a friend, but I think it was probably in college. We weren’t together every day to irritate each other with our differences, to slowly grind down each other’s nerves arguing about petty things like who got to use the bathroom first and who stole whose clothes. I was getting older, but so was she, and I recognized some of the things she was going through – trouble with boys, hardships with friends.

Even though she was and still is a terrible listener, when I went through a bad breakup in college, she let me lay on her bed whenever I was home on the weekends and cry for hours. I don’t know if she knows how much better that made me feel.

Now she’s about to go to college – Tarleton in the fall. I’m so excited for her. I know she’ll love it. Rylie has the type of personality that will thrive in the college social scene, and the major she’s chosen, early childhood education, is perfect for her. She’s great with kids, and she’s much smarter than she’ll ever give herself credit for. And she works hard – that kid takes so many extra hours in her retail job at NRS I can’t believe she’s still the same girl we all used to make fun of for being so lazy.

I don’t know if Rylie knows how much I admire her. She carries herself with so much pride and confidence, but she’s not arrogant. Even though I often tease her for being easily irritable, the truth is that Rylie is incredibly kind. She’s patient and welcoming toward her peers that often get rejected by others. As the middle child, she’s learned to be a mediator for our family and for her friends, and though it sometimes drives her crazy to fix other people’s problems, she’s good at it. She’s a much better people-person than I, and I respect that.

Rylie, I’ve always communicated better through writing than I do in person. Plus, if I told you all this face to face, we both know you would struggle to pay attention – too much serious sentiment. Our relationship has always been built more on teasing each other, anyway.

So consider this my letter to you, wishing you luck and every success possible in college. You’re going to have so much fun (and hopefully learn a few things too – you know your dorky sister has to throw education in there). I’m sure you’ll appreciate no longer getting mistaken for me. I look forward to seeing wherever you go next with your life.

Life on your own will be hard, but stay gorgeous, inside and out. I know you will.

I love you so much.

Racey Burden is a Messenger reporter.

2 Responses to “Life as an older sister (or how my sister is much cooler than me)”

  1. jana bearden says:

    Love you both Racey and Rylie!!

  2. says:

    As a person with three sisters, I really appreciate this story! Wonderful tribute to Rylie – and to you too! I thoroughly enjoyed it! Thanks for sharing!

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