We don’t mind TH E GAP

What’s a decade be­tween sis­ters? Here six women tell Ruth Tier­ney how their big age dif­fer­ence has ul­ti­mately brought them closer

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - BODY & SOUL -

STEPHANIE CLARKE, 29, a teacher, has al­ways felt like a sec­ond mother to her much younger sis­ter DARA, 16

STEPHANIE I come from a mas­sive Catholic fam­ily in Co. Down, with chil­dren crawl­ing out of the walls, so when Mummy be­came preg­nant when I was 12, I was in­cred­i­bly ex­cited. Un­til then I was the youngest, with my brother Jody, now 36, my only sib­ling.

My mother was in hos­pi­tal for three weeks with post-eclamp­sia af­ter hav­ing Dara and her twin, Michael, so I formed a mas­sive bond with them. I changed nap­pies, fed them, sang them to sleep and, as they grew up, this to­geth­er­ness con­tin­ued. I went to see their school shows, taught Dara Ir­ish danc­ing, and watched Michael play foot­ball. Once, a mother in the park asked, ‘Where did you get your wee girl’s hair cut?’ I thought, ‘Oh God, she thinks I’m a teenage mother!’ In a way, I felt like the third par­ent — still do.

Th­ese days, I’m work­ing as a teacher in a sec­ondary school, and some of my stu­dents are older than my sis­ter, which feels strange. The twins’ teenage years have been a lot cushier than mine were. Dara isn’t given jobs around the house, and she has our par­ents wrapped around her lit­tle fin­ger. When­ever I bring this up with Mummy, she says, ‘I’ve been a mother to teenagers for over 30 years. I can’t be both­ered fight­ing any more.’ I left home at 18 to go to univer­sity in Liver­pool, be­fore mov­ing to Lon­don. I was so caught up in cam­pus life that I didn’t re­ally miss the twins at first, but as I get older, and in­creas­ingly re­flec­tive, I miss them more and more. I’m get­ting mar­ried in a cou­ple of months and be­cause my fi­ancé, Matt, and I both have jobs in Eng­land, I’ll prob­a­bly never move back to North­ern Ire­land — a re­al­i­sa­tion that made me pine for the twins. I feel so sad about miss­ing their mile­stones.

DARA Stephanie taught me how to play chess, whis­tle and ride a bike. I used to sit in her bed­room and watch as she and her friends got ready to go out, beg­ging them to put some lip­stick on me, too. Stephanie, or Sep­pie as I’ve al­ways called her (I couldn’t pro­nounce her name at first), left home when I was six. Mummy said I cried for two weeks solid. I missed her so much and I still miss her now. I look for­ward to her com­ing home ev­ery cou­ple of months and I’ve started vis­it­ing her and Matt in Lon­don more.

My par­ents and I speak to her on the phone most nights, be­cause Sep­pie likes to make sure I’m okay. She gives me good ad­vice, such as telling me not to do any­thing I don’t want to do. That gave me the con­fi­dence to stand up for my­self and not bow to peer pres­sure. Sep­pie is a role model to me and I look up to her. She’s done re­ally well in life, be­ing the first in our fam­ily to go to univer­sity, and now she’s got a good ca­reer — I’d like to go to univer­sity, too.

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