The first time I got mistaken for the mother of one of my baby siblings, I was thirteen. I had taken Gorgeous Little Singing Sister (who at that time was more like Screaming Demon Sister) to the park with Baby Brother. She was 2. He was 3. They were 11 months apart. They would have been 10 months apart, only Screaming Demon Sister was a month overdue. I’d say my family sucked at family planning, except I suspect my foolish mother got pregnant on purpose. All eight times. My Ex-Stepfather used to say her dream was Armageddon — and then she would get to repopulate the world. But taking care of all these kids was not her forte. That’s why I was the one with them at the park.
Another kid refused to let Screaming Demon Sister have his shovel, and so she was, as usual, screaming. I held her, and as her sobs subsided, a middle-aged white woman asked if my daughter was okay. I gave her an utterly horrified look and shouted, “She IS NOT my daughter. I am thirteen, lady!” The poor woman beat a hasty retreat. In retrospect, I should have been nicer to the woman for making an honest mistake. (Also, as soon as I raised my voice, Screaming Demon Sister resumed screaming.)
I think being a part-time nanny aged me. When a friend braided my hair on a band trip in high school, she found my first grey hair. I had just turned 16. It was not an aberration. More grey hairs soon followed.
Screaming Demon Sister and Baby Brother were very good at picking up on their older siblings insecurities. Who can blame them? They needed a weapon to even out a power struggle against bigger, dictatorial siblings. Sometimes they were less than subtle: they called one sibling “Sister Big Nose” for years. But with my worries about premature aging, well, they played a long game.
They bided their time until the day we ran into my High School Crush at the Safeway grocery store. Baby Brother ran to the Personal Grooming aisle and screamed, “Hey, Mom, the Loving Care is over here! You can wash that gray out!” (Anyone else remember that damned jingle?)
High School Crush did a double take. I stammered out something about the hell spawn being my little brother and sister. Screaming Demon Sister put her hand on her hip, snorted, and delivered the coup de grâce: “Oh, yeah, right, MOM.”
High School Crush fled. I was so awed by the masterful, well-executed plan of those little fuckers that I couldn’t even be mad.
Well, not until much later, when my very last high school boyfriend bravely told me that he “loved me no matter what I had done in the past.”
I had no idea what he was talking about and I told him so.
He said, “It’s okay. I know your little sister isn’t really your sister.”
Me: “The hell she isn’t.”
Brave High School Moron: “No need to lie. I’m here for you. I know what that scar on your abdomen is from.”
Me: “So do I. From the appendix I no longer have.”
Brave High School Moron (with an air of palpable self-sacrifice): “I told you, I still love you.”
Me: “This is bullshit. I cannot wait to get to college.”
Brave High School Moron: “Shhh, it’s okay.”
Me: “No, it is NOT okay. I am dating an idiot who can’t tell the difference between a little appendectomy scar and a massive C-section scar!”
Brave High School Moron: “It’s not just that. Jeremy heard from Kevin who heard from Jason, who talked to Kirk who said that your little sister calls you “Mom—”
Me: “Excuse me. I have to go kill two little evil masterminds.”
Of course I couldn’t really kill them. I was just too darn proud.
I did dump the boyfriend, though.