The New Kid
Decade N° 5: A Not-so-Average Blog on Middle Age
By Carrie McConkey
Today, my sister Paige is turning 50.
Let me rephrase that. My little sister Paige is turning 50.
She’s had a bit of a dress rehearsal on two occasions. The first was in 2020 when she watched me enter the new decade. But I didn’t set a great example. I greeted the milestone with shocked surprise, as if I could have dodged it if I’d been paying closer attention.
The following year, our mom, who is the absolute best about remembering every birthday, anniversary, and other important date, got confused during COVID and accidentally sent Paige her 50th birthday card… when she turned 49.
Today, finally official, Paige isn’t fazed — just ready to celebrate. She’s always up for a fun party. And her level-headedness about the event has given me the space to reflect upon what it’s meant to have her as my younger, and only, sibling.
And Then There Were Two
I first became aware of Paige’s presence when I could no longer claim the prize at the bottom of the cereal box. I was informed that I could claim every other toy, with the ones in between being presented to this new, smaller person in our household.
But this smaller person had a big, open smile, alert green eyes, and an impish personality that was always entertaining, especially for an older sister looking for opportunities to be a tattletale.
Once, when I was searching for Paige around the house, I did a walk-through of her empty bedroom. As I turned to leave, I heard an odd noise. It was coming from under the bed. I lifted the dust ruffle and saw my preschool-aged sister, lying on her side, tucked back in the furthest corner of the narrow, shaded space. Beside her lay a full-sized bag of Doritos corn chips.
Evidently, Paige had been in the mood for a snack, but it was too close to dinnertime to gain permission. So, she’d taken matters into her own cheese-stained hands.
Without a word, we looked at each other. Paige ate a chip.
I yelled for our mom, delighted at my too-good-to-be-true reveal. I don’t remember what happened next, but I suspect our mother was more amused than cross.
After all, she loved Doritos, too.
An Unlikely Companion
For about the first decade of our lives, our family lived in four different cities, which felt exciting but isolating at the same time. I developed a new appreciation of my sibling/rival, as she was my only friend as we settled into each new town and school.
No matter where we were, we served as each other’s built-in playmate. During snowy winters in our townhouse in Chicago, we put Beatles LPs on the record player in our unfinished basement and taught ourselves how to roller skate. Crouching, we pushed the wheels along the concrete floor until we gained enough confidence to stand.
On a family vacation to visit my mom’s folks in southern Florida, together Paige and I learned how to swim. And when our paternal grandfather brought us up to Kentucky in the summer, we would explore every fascinating corner of his sprawling antebellum home, imagining stories (and — did you hear a ghost?) from decades gone by.
Long after the cereal box introduction, big sister sharing with little sister remained a theme in our household. One year right after Halloween, Mom gave Paige and me each a small blue and white metal tin in which to store our extra trick-or-treating stash. While I carefully allocated my candy corn and wax lips, Paige stayed true to her “carpe diem” motto and thoroughly enjoyed hers. When her little tin rang empty, both of us looked at mine. With a resentful attitude toward her blatant carelessness, I shared my candy with my little sis. Looking back, I often kept sweets for so long that they would go stale, so I guess it was a win for the both of us.
Along with our candy-rationing skills, Paige and I held differing tastes and interests. I was passionate about reading and sewing, while Paige loved gymnastics and was usually cartwheeling around the house and yard. When we played with our Barbie dolls, I packed my Barbie family for a trip in my Scooby-Doo style Barbie Country Camper. Paige took hers for a spin in her Barbie pink convertible sports car.
Our music choices were opposite, too. In 1979, Dad asked us each what our favorite song was so he could buy us a 45 record as a gift. Mine was “Too Much Heaven” by The Bee Gees. Paige’s was “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart.
Paige and I chose different methods of handling our emotion-filled teenage years. I pursued relentless perfectionism, and Paige chose rebellion. I worked on my homework excessively and exhaustively, constantly overachieving, not even certain whom I was trying to impress. Paige hung out with the wild crowds at school, partied a little too often, and drank a little too much. We viewed each other’s actions with confusion, wondering why each would seek attention in this way. Of the two of us, however, I’m sure she had much more fun.
As we grew into adulthood, Paige and I regained our closeness, but the big sister/little sister hierarchy began to fade. The words that had so often been used in tandem: “Carrie and Paige”, became “Carrie and John” when I married. And Paige took steps in life for which I hadn’t paved the way: moving away from Tennessee; giving birth — naturally — to three sons; coping with a painful divorce; and rebuilding her life as a single mom.
A New Season
As my effervescent, strong, beautiful sister Paige turns 50, I reflect upon where she stands today. She chose a career — of all things — as a Behavior Analyst, and her colorful past made her well-equipped to understand the kaleidoscope of actions and reactions that we, as humans, possess. She’s a military mom now, with two of her three boys serving in the U.S. Air Force. And she’s enjoying a healthy romantic relationship, Paige-style: her loving boyfriend David is eight years her junior.
Sharing this same decade with my sister will be unlike any we’ve experienced in the past. We have the foundation of our history together, but also different strengths, experiences, and knowledge with which to bolster one other. I’m leading the way again, somewhat, as I enter into the physical changes of menopause, but this time Paige hasn’t been behind me, waiting to follow my lead. Instead, she has stood beside me and sometimes even held me up, offering her support, empathy, and encouragement.
Facing Our Future, Together
I talk and text with my sister on a weekly basis, and I love it when we fill each other in on tiny life details such as the events that transpired to make me late for our call (she always assures me she hadn’t been watching the clock), or what her latest challenges are at work.
More and more, we talk about our parents, providing updates and asking questions. “Have you talked with Mom this week? I haven’t heard from her and I’m a little worried.” Or, “I had lunch with Dad yesterday. He’s doing well.” Our differing personalities enable us to tag team in our quest to love and respect the very people who gave us one another.
The time when Paige and I will be the elders is approaching fast. We’ll enjoy watching her sons grow up, marry, and have children of their own, with Paige once again venturing into unknown territory as a grandmother. And regarding our own family’s past, someday Paige and I will be the keeper of the memories.
But today, on this special day, I celebrate the new kid.
Happy Birthday to my little sister Paige.