Students Speak: Embracing Big-Sisterhood

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Caitlin Maloney, Bryn Mawr School, Class of 2012, shares with us her senior speech about being big sister, and role model, to her little brothers Michael and John. Caitlin will attend Bucknell University in the fall. – The Eds.


Caitlin Maloney

When I was 10 years old, I was pretty sure I had my family life figured out. I had been an only child for ten years and I was quite sure that that’s the way it would be for the rest of my life, something I hardly minded. I’d gotten very used to being the center of attention; the only kid that any of my relatives cared about. So on a chilly afternoon in mid- November, when my parents broke the news about the new baby on the way, I definitely had mixed feelings. While I was incredibly excited, I was also a little bit nervous. I’d asked for siblings before, but that was back when I was five or six. As a ten year old, I just didn’t know what to make of it. None of my friends were even close to ten years apart from their siblings, and I wasn’t sure I liked the idea.

My parents told me to keep the baby a secret for a couple months, because my mom was only two months along in her pregnancy, but as a fifth grade girl, who were they kidding? This secret was huge. So, of course, I went to school the next day and told all of my friends.

In the next few months, my excitement consumed my nervousness. The whole process was so special to me because I was old enough to actually be a part of it. I was there for all of the doctor’s appointments and the sonograms and even played a large role in the decoration of the baby’s room. I picked a light green color because we weren’t sure of the baby’s gender yet and I thought it was neutral, pretty enough for a girl and manly enough for a boy.

On one night in April, April 16th, 2005 to be exact, my dad was away on business, and I was at my friend’s house for a sleep over. My mom was home alone, something that my dad and I hadn’t been too worried about because the baby wasn’t due for another two and a half months. I woke up on the morning of the 17th, assuming the day was just like any other. I became suspicious, however, when I was still at my friends house at three in the afternoon. While this may not seem that odd to most of you, it was to me; I had always been the first girl picked up from sleepovers, so this out of character lateness on behalf of my mom was worrisome.

Around five in the evening, I sat at the kitchen table trying to distract myself with a game of Monopoly. It wasn’t working however, because my eyes were practically glued to the clock. Fifteen minutes later, my friend’s mom came to get me, saying that my grandmother had arrived to pick me up. By that time, I was more than worried. My grandmother lived eight hours away in Massachusetts; there had to be something seriously wrong if she was suddenly in Baltimore to pick me up.  I walked outside only to see a giant UHAUL van in front of my friend’s house. What was more odd, however, was that my grandmother was in the driver’s seat. I ran down the steps and jumped into the passenger seat, immediately asking questions about why she was there, where my mom was, and why she would ever be driving a UHAUL. She told me that my mom was in the hospital with labor pains and had called my grandmother and told her to come to Baltimore. When she received the call, my grandmother had been visiting my uncle in Virginia, and didn’t have her car because she had taken the train to see him. She had called all the car rentals around his area but the only one available was a UHAUL. She attempted to ease my worries when she told me that she had already been to the hospital to see my mom and assured me that she was all right and that my dad had arrived to take care of her.

That night, I had a hard time sleeping, for obvious reasons.  I was so confused about why the baby was going to be born so early and what my mom might have done to make the baby premature. I fell asleep around midnight, probably one of the latest nights I had ever had as a 10 year old, and woke up at 6 a.m. on April 18th to the news that my first sibling had been born at 3 a.m., Michael Joseph Maloney.  He was ten weeks premature and weighed three pounds, two ounces, but other than that, was perfectly healthy. Although I was immediately struck by how lucky he was to be in good health, I was unaware of the full significance of his weight until I saw him later that day.

After school, my dad drove me to the hospital and took me to the neonatal ICU wing, where I walked into a room containing premature and at-risk babies.  Each baby was enclosed in an incubator, and Michael was no different. I walked over to the glass case and laid my eyes on the tiniest baby I had ever seen. When I picked him up and held him, he could almost fit in my ten-year-old hand. It was hard for me to leave him later that day when it was time to go. I hated the thought of him alone in that little box with machines beeping all around him. Right when I got home, I recorded an audio tape of my favorite childhood songs, and stories that I loved from when I was a baby, so that he could have something to listen to while he was still in the hospital. He had to stay in the hospital for six weeks, until he could gain weight and strength, and when he finally got to come home, he was still frighteningly little.

Two and a half years later, when my parents sat me down again to tell me about a second baby on the way, I was an old pro. I had matured a lot since Michael’s birth, and was more than ready for another baby around the house. This time, my parents only had to worry about Michael’s reaction. While he was too young to fully understand, my parents knew that when the baby finally came, he wouldn’t quite know what to make of it. We prepared the same way as we had for Michael, and luckily, this baby came on time; only a day earlier than his estimated arrival date.

On December 15th, 2007 John Francis Maloney was born, adding a third child into the Maloney family. He was 7 pounds, 14 ounces, almost the combined weight of Michael and me when we were born.  This time, there were no long hospital stays or abnormal tests that had to be done, and John was allowed to come home the day after he was born.

These two little boys have filled my life with laughter and have taught me so much since the time of their birth. They have taken a huge part in shaping the person I have become and have helped me to learn valuable life lessons, four of which I would like to share with you today.

Lesson number 1: The importance of practicing selflessness. My parents love to travel and as a result, occasionally leave my brothers and me at home alone. On these occasions, I have full responsibility. A typical Saturday morning as their mom goes like this: I wake up to John’s voice in my ear at 7 am: “Cait! Wake up! It’s not nighttime anymore!”  I tread downstairs to make breakfast. I pop in the Eggo waffles and slice some pears. Mike wakes up and comes down to eat with us. Then, it’s back upstairs to get the boys dressed for the day. I open John’s drawer and see that he used his last Pull-up last night; I make a mental note that I have to go to the store to get more. All of the sudden it’s nine and Mike has tennis lessons, coats are put on and we drive to tennis. John’s upset that Mike left, and so I spend fifteen minutes soothing him. We go to CVS to get Pull-ups, and then to the grocery to get orange juice because we just ran out and John can’t live without it. John gets a cookie for being a trooper and then it’s back to Greenspring to pick up Mike.  Mikey’s friend comes over and all four of us head outside to ride bikes. John rides his scooter and falls off, tears are shed, and we go inside to clean up the scrape. Then, it’s lunchtime, and I cook them grilled cheese and soup.  Even though it’s one of their favorite meals, it is a struggle to get them to eat. Finally, it’s time for John’s nap, and I read book after book until he falls asleep. Once he is asleep, I set Mikey up with an art project at my desk and lie down on my bed to get some rest. What feels like six minutes later, John is back up again and the routine continues…

On days like these, I am forced to only recognize my brothers’ needs and disregard my own. Because of this, I have learned to think about others before I consider myself. This is a lesson that may have taken me much longer to learn had I not had little brothers.

Lesson number 2: The importance of practicing kindness. Last year, when my grandfather passed away, my entire family was devastated.  We left his funeral feeling empty and lifeless and no one could even begin to express his or her sorrow. When we got back to our house, Mike disappeared into the basement for over an hour. Hardly anyone noticed until John, who needs to know Michael’s wherebouts at all times, starting calling his name. Mike came upstairs, walked up to my grandmother and handed her a big piece of poster board. We had all been sitting around the kitchen table and each of us started to tear up as we looked at what my brother had made. “Dear family,” it read, “I’m sorry Bunca died. I love you.” Surrounding the message was a hand drawn picture of our whole family holding hands in the grass and Bunca sitting in the clouds above us. It amazed me that at only five years old Michael had been so touched by our family’s loss. When he saw our sadness during the funeral, Michael resolved to go home and do everything in his power to make us happy again. Although it has taken me over a year to move past my grandfather’s death, on that day, Michael was able to bring a smile to all of our faces through that one act of kindness.

Lesson number 3: The importance of practicing loyalty. Mikey has shown me how to be loyal through how he protects his younger brother. Johnny is the youngest kid in the neighborhood. There are about six or seven boys ages six to eight on our block, so he is often the one getting left behind. One day in particular, Mike was playing in the basement with two of his peers, and John, who had just woken up from his nap, was eager to join in on the fun.  When John came down, one of Mike’s friends yelled out, “EW he’s a baby let’s not play with him!!” The other friend agreed saying, “Yeah he’s too little let’s run away!” I had been in the kitchen, and hearing this, I went to the top of the basement stairs to see how John would react. John, who is always ready for a fight, started to yell back, but Mikey interrupted him saying, “It’s okay John, I won’t let them do that.” And then to his friends, “If you guys want to do that, you don’t have to play here.  I’m going to play with my brother.” The two other kids said nothing, but did not run away or continue to be mean for the rest of the afternoon.   These exact situations happen all the time and I find it inspiring how much it infuriates Michael whenever anyone tried to be mean to John. Even though Mike and John’s favorite activity is fighting each other and they are always tumbling around on the floor trying to beat each other up, Mike wants to protect John 100 percent of the time. These instances have taught me the importance of loyalty to those you love and how easy standing up for someone can be. If a six year old can do it, I know I can too.

Lesson number 4: The importance of putting things in perspective. As I have gotten older, I have become wrapped up in the little things, and tend to complicate situations way more than I should. Having little brothers has helped me to put things in perspective because I have learned how to laugh at situations and to not take everything seriously. One Sunday at around 11:40 A.M., I was sitting in church next to my dad and my grandmother. My mom was in the back of the church with John because she had gotten tired of telling him to be quiet. The music began to play for communion, when all of the sudden the fire alarm went off.  It was deafeningly loud and although my dad was inaudible I could read his lips as he said, “Oh my God, do you think that was John?” I nodded as I saw my mom speed walking to the altar. She walked up to the priest and whispered something into his ear. Then, the announcement was made: “Not to worry, everyone. This is a false alarm. The little blond boy in the back of the church pulled the alarm by accident.” Immediately, everyone turned to look at us because they knew that it must have been the same little boy who had been talking all mass. I sank down in my seat, mortified. We got communion and left, and I walked out of church ready to give John a good talking-to. However, as I got outside, and saw the remorse on John’s face, I realized that I was making it into a much bigger deal than it needed to be. Even though John would most definitely get into trouble, it was more funny than embarrassing. He pulled the alarm out of curiosity, not in an effort to be disruptive or disobedient. Moments like this one have helped me to realize that I often take things too seriously and that I need to learn to laugh at situations. Because in most cases in the grand scheme of things, situations aren’t as bad as they originally seem.

Over the last seven years, Michael and John have become the two focal points of my life. I am almost always with them; I bring them up in pretty much every conversation, and I find myself often thinking about them when we’re apart. Because I am 10 and 13 years their elder, I am more of an adult to them than a peer. They view me as a third parent because I am often the one shuttling them around, feeding them meals, and putting them to bed. Consequently, I now have a deep appreciation for the amazing responsibility that comes with raising and caring for a child. I’ve matured tremendously since they were born, and the lessons they have helped me learn have greatly shaped the person who I am today. They’ve taught me how to love and how to be selfless and those feelings have overflowed into all of my relationships and experiences and my view on life.

As a ten year old without brothers, I didn’t understand the strong bond that can be present between siblings.  I was nervous about losing attention and not being a good older sister and I just didn’t feel ready. Now, seven years later, I can proudly say I am the older sister of the two cutest boys in the world and am so lucky to have them in my life.


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  1. Caitllin…this made me cry (in a good way). You are a special young lady and a great sister and daughter. Wishing you all the best next year!

  2. What a grand tale of growing up! The transition from only child (with the risk of self–centeredness) to eldest sibling who cares for and cares about the youngers is a great tale to tell. Thanks for writing it.

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