The sound of her voice sets my teeth on edge. The children’s older biological sister, M, is difficult for me to stomach. I am caught between my instinct to get her away from my children and the idea that I should try to maintain their original sibling bonds. It’s hard for me to do.
Contact with her is something the children are entitled to. She isn’t a danger to them. She’s just…herself. I know that if I keep them from her they will only seek her out all the more as they get older. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter.
Still, it’s hard for me to see the upside of this contact. She’s always pushing the limits just enough to set off my internal warning system. Her compliments are backhanded. Her questions are all masking hidden intentions. I know she is poking around the edges of our relationship, looking for a soft spot.
When M comes to the house it’s usually to pick up Marcus. Without fail she immediately requests to use the bathroom and then proceeds to the younger children’s rooms. She goes through their things rapidly asking questions about what clothes or shoes might fit her and what her children would like. If I could describe her in one word it would be “hungry.”
Then she tears through picture albums and other personal effects. All the while she’s asking a million questions about what we think is “wrong” with Mary and why. I never answer these. It’s Mary’s business to share if and when she wants to.
The last contact with M came just as I was bringing Mary home for the weekend. Marcus handed Mary the phone the second Mary and I walk in. It’s a FaceTime call from M. She wanted to grill Mary about the private boarding school where we “sent her away.” M does not believe that Mary has any problems that need addressing. I suppose living with Mary for the first 3 years of her life has made M an expert.
She puts on a pouty face and comments, “I bet you don’t want to go back there. I bet you wished you could stay at your mom’s house. Right? Right, Mary???”
A confused Mary shrugs and says, “Sure.”
Her “mom’s house” really?? This is obviously Mary’s home, too! Also, this is a two parent household. For whatever reason, M has always treated Luke as an afterthought. She sees me as the parent and Luke as some sort of family-adjacent variable. It’s insulting, really. He’s an excellent father and as it just so happens: homeowner!
I glance at the screen and notice that M is surrounded by scattered trash and maybe 6 black trash bags littering the floor. She’s changing her youngest child directly on the carpet next to some old McDonald’s wrappers and what looks like a banana peel. Her face appears drawn and tired. She’s gained about 20 pounds since I saw her at Christmas time.
Mary becomes quiet and awkward. She asks after the baby. M begins to rapid fire questions one after the other while my daughter tries to keep up. Mary answers either “yes” or “no” as M demands to know what clothes she has, what is in her room and if she misses “having friends.” Mary doesn’t even know how to respond to the last question. She scrunches up her brow in confusion and glances at me.
Rather than answer M what size her Nike shoes are, I wish Mary would describe her riding lessons, gymnastics or on-campus therapeutic rope course. I wish she’d fill M in about her dorm room in the elite wing with TV, DVD player an iPod. She’s doing quite well at her amazing school but it doesn’t come up.
Instead M ends the call with, “Wow you look chubby! You’re getting chubby just like me!” Then she says she has to go and cuts off the call.
No matter how I feel, M is a part of my children’s lives. I’ve just got to suck it up and smile unless she were to do something obviously inappropriate. Until then I feign happiness that she’s in touch and swallow my own hurt pride.
As of this moment Marcus is staying with her in the city. I can’t help but feel that my oldest child has just walked into the Lion’s den.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.