My older sister sits at the computer with her head in her hands, long blond hair shielding her face. The room is silent except for her slow, deep breathing. Piles of books, pamphlets and papers are spread across the desk. She raises her head as though she is waking up and stares out the window. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees me and asks, "Can I cry now?" She has been working on college applications for the past three hours, and looks as if she has the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Life with a senior sibling is not always easy, as some of you know. It can involve sacrifices to help make the other's life easier, and sometimes they aren't ones you want to make. But you do, because that's how families work. I know from experience that emotions can go up and down.
Here are a few ideas for surviving the college application process: First, don't interrupt if your sibling is working on applications - it's like poking a sleeping dragon. The stress of worrying about if you'll get into college creates a very quick temper. I have experienced, many times, a sharp tongue, loud voice or exasperated look even when I do something as simple as say it's time for dinner.
Second, if your sibling looks mad, the odds are very good that s/he is mad. It would be a good idea to give him/her a chance to cool off. If you insist on talking right then, you are likely giving your sibling a perfect opportunity to launch into a tirade of complaints about school, work, friends, politics or life in general. But if by chance your sibling does want to talk, taking the time to listen and give support is greatly appreciated.
Another thing to remember: don't ask for a favor if your sibling is trying to get through a mountain of homework. I went into my sister's room one Saturday afternoon and asked if I could borrow a shirt. She was in the middle of doing her calculus homework and replied, "I have no idea where anything is. If you can find my sanity, and if you can finish my homework for me, then I'll see if I can find that shirt." I quietly backed out of the room, and shut the door.
The next tip is very simple: You can work miracles in improving your sibling's mood if you go about it the right way. Every once in a while, everyone needs a break, so if you notice your sibling getting stressed out, do something to help him/her relax. It can be as small as telling a joke - anything to escape the pressure of being a senior for a few minutes. For example, I happened to find my sister in the kitchen one day making herself a cup of tea while she took a break. I snuck up behind her and tickled her sides. She shrieked with laughter and started screaming as I continued to tickle her. She ran around the house trying to get away, but laughed the whole time. Finally, she collapsed on the couch and we both just sat there giggling. It wasn't anything in particular we were laughing at, we just needed to take a break and relax.
The last thing I have realized about life with a senior: even if my sister is grouchy, angry or stressed out, she's still my big sister and we can learn a lot from each other. I will be very sad when she leaves for college because she won't be there for our midnight talks, random drives to nowhere and to share stories about life. That is why I am determined to make her senior year great, so her last year at home is one she'll remember with a smile. That's what families are for - to make each other's lives a bit easier, and to be there for each other, no matter what.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.