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My Helpful Sister

By: Lilli Lee

I think in every family with more than one child, it’s easy for siblings to fall into certain roles and it’s easy for parents to perpetuate those roles by learning quickly which one is going to get the job done and which one is going to be the headache. Growing up, I think my sister would agree that I was the one who was expected to be helpful while she, due to her clever manipulation or ease of wit, could be counted on to avoid just about every household task at hand. We were never a chore-driven family. There were never charts full of stickers or organized allowances after finishing agreed upon tasks. Our jobs were more directly related to and in response to our mother flipping out about our hazardous, probably bacteria filled rooms and learning how to run and hide if she decided we were being lazy and needed a job to do. I had a friend who used to moan and groan because it was her job to put away the silverware out of the dishwasher and to clean her bathroom once a week. I’m sure I would’ve hated it, too, but at the time I thought it sounded kind of homemaker chic to put on some yellow, rubber gloves and spot shine the sinks. I probably would’ve tied my hair back in a red kerchief like Rosie the Riveter just for full affect.

But while our household tasks were minimal, when our mother asked us to do something, she never sounded like how so many mothers today do by ending every request in a soft spoken, ‘ok?’. It was expected that we’d better hop up and start working or there’d be a pretty strong price to pay. Which is why it’s a bit baffling yet impressive how my sister managed from an early age to outsmart our crafty mother and avoid working around the house at all costs.

Soon after my sister got her own phone line installed, she really put it to good use. There was a day our mother asked us to go out to the car and unload groceries. We were in my sister’s room which was directly underneath our parents’ upstairs bedroom. Immediately after our mother shouted down her request, we heard her walk across her room to go into her bathroom, close the door and then lock it. My sister didn’t even have to utter a word. She just picked up her phone and dialed the number belonging to the rest of the house. We heard the click of the unlocking bathroom door, followed by the pound, pound, pound, pound of footsteps across the upstairs room floor and then our mother’s voice answering the ringing telephone. “Hello??” we heard. Then a beat of silence. “Hellooooo?” Then nothing. We heard a terse, frustrated sigh and then the hanging up of the phone. Pound, pound, pound back to the bathroom. Door shutting, knob locking. My sister shrugging with a grin like it was her duty to have to do it again. Ring, ring. Door unlocking and opening, feet stomping, phone being picked up, “HELLO?” Pause. “WHO’S THERE??” Stiffled giggles from downstairs. “WHOEVER THIS IS, I’LL HAVE YOU KNOW I’M GOING TO CALL THE POLICE!!” Big slam down of the phone. Groceries still sweltering in the hot trunk of her car, so, clearly it was time to do it again. Inevitably by the fourth or fifth time she’d come bounding out of the bathroom, she’d stub a toe on her way to grabbing the phone and we’d hear a thunderous, “GODDAMN IT!!!!” She never caught on to the fact that it was always my sister torturing her from downstairs but I think this is why, to this day, our mother rarely picks up the phone and almost always lets it go to voicemail.

Another fun trick was to watch my sister squirrel her way out of helping out on party days. Our mother preparing for a party became a thundering general on the front lines of bloody battle. No one was safe. You either followed orders, head down or quickly got out of her path of crazed terror. I was usually relegated to non-creative, chopping, stirring kinds of activities. My sister would often be asked to do the same but no matter what the task was, she’d immediately say, ‘I don’t do that,’ and keep doing whatever she was busy doing in the first place. My mother would get irritated but not waste a lot of time explaining to my sister the benefits in learning how to be a good party-thrower in order to eventually land a husband. She was too busy worried about the party at hand so would make me absorb a lot of what my sister decided she simply wasn’t going to do. Once in a while, to throw her off track, my sister would agree to do what my mother asked of her. Setting the table fancy-style in the dining room was usually one job she could be counted on to do. The two of us would start laying out the silverware and a few minutes into the task, just when my sister got bored, she’d secretly take a fork and give it a good, solid lick down the back of the tines. Who got the lucky fork a few hours later at dinner? We wouldn’t know at the time and wasn’t that just the fun mystery of it all? But we both knew who WOULDN’T be dining at the fanciest place setting of them all. Neither of us, that’s who. And when we’d start laughing during dinner at the person eating with the tainted utensil, our mother never knew why. More often than not we were laughing because whoever it was likely deserved it.

And speaking of forks, the simplest, most elegant torture my sister inflicted upon our mother on party days was a tried and true method that was three-fold in that it never failed to drive our mother crazy, amused us to no end and was a brilliant diversion for my sister to avoid doing any kind of real work. Just when the countdown to guest arrival was ticking and food items were getting last minute spice adjustments and temperature testings, that’s when my sister would quietly sneak behind our mother with a fork and ever so gently; very, very subtly, just press the fork a tiny bit into her backside and then announce in a confident voice, “NOT READY!!” My mother would whip around, shocked by the sting of a fork in her ass and start screaming at my sister while trying not to drop whatever huge roasting pan she was carrying to the table.

I know I’m guilty of falling into the same parental trap as my mother did when it comes to raising helpful children. My eldest is always first in line to do whatever task I need fulfilled. Our middle, however, is a little more reluctant to do so. He’s not old enough to learn how to creatively get out of helping yet, hasn’t been receptive to learning the tricks of his auntie just yet, but I can see it starting. He can’t even get his entire excuse of, “I’m too tired to put my dirty clothes in the hamper,” before his big brother swoops them all up and skips the hamper step to rush them all in the washing machine instead.

In time I hope all my boys will join me on party days in perfect familial harmony, preparing food and adorning the beautiful table but in the meanwhile- it’s a safe bet they won’t be getting their own phone line or handling the fork duties any time soon.

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Ben Lee

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Cal BRE #01808926

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