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
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.