My mother got pregnant when I was about three, and because her baby bump was very ’round’ at the time, she was convinced that it was a girl. So for many months before the baby was born, I would cuddle next to my mother while she watched TV, gently put my cheeks on her baby bump and talked to “Hoi Fa” (meaning “ocean flower” in Chinese – my chosen name for her) in three year old gibberish. After so many years by myself (there were no such things as play groups back then), I couldn’t wait to have a REAL LIVE baby sister to play with. I was going to be the best-est elder sister ever. We were going to do everything together in matching red outfits and pig tails!
Before my mother had a chance to get a proper scan to confirm her conviction however, her water broke on the eve of October 30, 1990 (3 months early!). After over 24 hours of labor having me, she wasn’t going to rush to the hospital for nothing and have oily hair for the rest of the week (in Chinese culture, women are not supposed to wash their hair immediately after giving birth). She very calmly finished making dinner and washed her super curly shoulder length hair before heading to the hospital. My brother was born shortly after by cesarean. When I found out, I ran up our long curving staircase to my room, jumped onto my bed and promptly burst into tears. Despite my aunt Anita and uncle Peter’s best efforts, I was heartbroken. My baby sister had turned into an icky boy. I fell asleep staring mournfully at my Mickey Mouse lampshade.
Needless to say, the arrival of my brother was marred with disappointment and nagging feelings which I eventually identified as jealousy. It wasn’t so bad at first. My mother came back a few days later and the three of us went out for dim sum as usual. Since my brother was born premature, he had to stay for further observation at the hospital, inside a small plastic box. My mother marveled at the convenience of it all. Instead of staying up all day and night feeding and changing diapers, she was relaxing and enjoying herself with a nice cup of tea. After a few days though, the hospital called asking my parents where they were, and why they had not come to visit at all.
When I envisioned the arrival of my new sibling, my three year old mind did not factor in the fact that it would take my parent’s attention away from me. Indeed, I thought there would actually be one more person in my orbit to circle around me. Parents nowadays try to ease the entry of a second child into a household, by presenting the first child with gifts from their new sibling to generate good will. But my mother is fifth of seven children and my father is second of three. They had absolutely no concept of what an unwelcome intrusion a sibling is to a single child. I was suddenly thrown out of my limelight, and I didn’t like it at all.
It was dark days for me after that. I don’t remember much, but from what I’ve gathered in home videos, it was cringe worthy. Every time I see those videos, my heart goes out to that little girl. One in particular featured my brother lying crinkly and naked in a small tub full of water in the shower, while my mother kneel next to him with one hand behind his neck and the other running a soapy wash cloth over him, giving him a bath. My father stood next to them, holding his huge rectangular video camera over his shoulder. And in the background, you can hear the voice of a little girl, repeatedly going “daddy daddy, look at me!” Then the camera shakes a bit as my father glances back and reproaches the little girl, telling her to be quiet. I stop watching after that, as embarrassment and rejection overcomes me all over again. I was supposed to be the focal point of my father’s big black box. I freeze whenever I get in front of a video camera now, but back then I was a natural. I would just look straight at the lens and talk non stop, showing my invisible audience a photo album or just go about cooking in my toy kitchen, while my mom cooks in the real kitchen next door. My brother was just lying in a tub!
Eventually I got over the fact that I have a brother instead of a sister (I even started to appreciate that I never have to share my clothes), and learnt how to regain and share the limelight. But that is a story for another time.