Life was good for the first 18 months of my life. I can’t really remember much about them, but I know I was pretty spoilt by my aunts, uncles and grandparents, and there was no one else competing for my parents’ attention. My cousin Matthew was born when I was 18 months old. He didn’t affect things that much, but he was the first of many cousins to be born into my family. Matthew had the perfect nature for an older brother. As a child he was sweet, relatively well behaved and didn’t really expect the world to revolve around him. This was a good thing, as his brother, just under 2 years younger than him, wasn’t very well and required quite a few hospital visits and a fair bit of attention. Matthew took it all in his stride and coped with little evidence of jealousy or upset.
I’m not so sure I would have been the same.
My parents had wanted another child very soon after they’d had me. They planned on having a two year gap between me and their next child. My mother fell pregnant, and it looked like it was going to turn out as they hoped. My mother went for an ultrasound, her first ever ultrasound, only to be told that she wasn’t pregnant. She had a blighted ovum, and miscarried a few days later. She still thinks about that other child that never was, she remembers it every year on what was meant to be her due date. It was never a secret in my family, it’s something she will talk about and I know she grieved for her baby and continues to do so to some extent.
They struggled to conceive after that. My mother went on fertility tablets and a year later found herself pregnant again. Apart from morning sickness, which was actually all day sickness, she had a relatively healthy pregnancy. At one point my brother was very ill, stopped moving and the doctor had to be called out in a torrential downpour. However, after a dose of antibiotics, all was well again.
Most of my early memories are from my third year. I can remember my Great-grandfather, who used to waggle his false teeth at me to make me run away, shrieking in pretend fright. He died before I was three. However, beyond that, I don’t really remember much else until around the time I turned 3. It was a pretty eventful year for me.
I grew up surrounded by family. The Campbell side have always been very close, as well as numerous. My father was the eldest of 6 children. He has 3 brothers and 2 sisters. As my parents were young when they had me, my uncles and aunts were younger. In many respects they felt like older brothers and sisters rather than uncles and aunts. My uncles in particular used to take great joy in teasing me. My uncle Allan, the tallest of them all, would hold my favourite toy above my head and make me try and jump up and get it. Sometimes he’d then hand said toy up high and leave, with me unable to reach it.
Strangely enough this toy was actually one he’d given me.
My uncle Andy, on the other hand, used to chase me around the house, pretending to be a monster. I’d run around, shrieking in pretend terror and giggling loudly. I used to run to the sofa and hide my head, making myself as small as possible. He would then run up and tickle me. One of these times I ran to the sofa, with my right hand held out straight. I ran into it, my hand bent back and my wrist broke slightly. It took quite a while for my uncle to get over feeling guilty about that. If we still lived in South Africa he would have learnt pretty quickly that I am just a very clumsy person who tends to get hurt a lot.
The next thing that happened when I was 3 was I got chicken pox. My mother, heavily pregnant at the time, had to continue to work. I was looked after by my grandmother instead. I remember being constantly told not to scratch, and being pretty indignant that this wasn’t allowed. I was itchy, dammit, and needed to scratch. My grandmother and mother would bath me together, I’d be lifted out the bath with one, covered in a towel by the other and they’d then undertake a two man operation to smother me as quickly as possible in camomile lotion.
As you can tell, this was a rather distressing year for me. Worse was to come. As the year went by people kept talking about this baby that was in my mother’s tummy. I had no clue how it got there, nor did I really care, but it was to be something called a brother or sister. People kept asking me if I was excited about getting one. I have to be honest and say that I don’t really understand why people ask older siblings this when the older sibling is around 2 or 3 years old. At that time most toddlers are in a world of their own, pretty oblivious to other people’s thoughts and feelings. Most toddlers don’t really understand the concept of a brother or sister. I knew what a baby was. I’d seen them before. But from the way people talked, getting a brother or sister was different to this. They kept telling me I’d have someone to play with and have fun with. So in my head, this thing that was in my mother’s tummy was going to one day come out, be roughly my age and be able to play with me right from the start. Oh, and I didn’t want a brother. I didn’t grow up in a family where toys were considered to be gender neutral. Boys were not allowed dolls or anything of that nature. While I grew up able to play with my brothers’ toys and such, he wasn’t supposed to play with mine. So, no brother for me, please, because then I wouldn’t have anyone to play Barbie’s with. My parents found out they were having a son, which already put me off the idea of having another child in the house.
My mother then disappeared for a few days. She was off, having this brother of mine in hospital and I wasn’t allowed to visit her. I wasn’t allowed in the hospital at all. The day she was due to come home I waited outside with someone. I’m not sure who it was. It was probably one of my aunts, or someone. I know when they turned to me and asked whether I wanted to go home with my mother and baby brother or go to football with my dad, I picked go to football with my dad. You see, I was pretty disappointed by this time. People had lied to me. That brother that was in my mother’s tummy for some reason wasn’t capable of playing with me. He was a baby. A crying creature that required constant care and attention. The more care and attention he got, the less I got, and I really, really didn’t think that was fair. So I picked football, because what would I be doing at home with my mother and brother? Watching other people cooing over this wrinkly looking creature was not my idea of fun.
My mother tried to mitigate the issue of me getting less attention from other people. Instinctively when visiting they would go straight for the baby, when before they would have said hello to me, first. Knowing that this really isn’t fair on a 3 year old, my mother would place me in front of my brother and insist that I get greeted the way that I used to be greeted. It didn’t stop the jealousy from rearing its ugly head.
Alistair was a very easy going baby and child. Unlike me he could eat as much as he wanted and sleep as much as he wanted without it affecting the way he slept at night. Not much phased him, and he was a very happy child. He also adored me. I didn’t recognise it at the time, but he looked up to me for quite a number of years, even though I was pretty horrible in response. I saw him as competition, even throughout my teens. He was everything I wasn’t: charismatic, funny, outgoing, and I didn’t like that.
When we were much younger, we used to bath together as siblings often do. My mother would stay in the bathroom with us, letting us play with the bath toys for a while before whisking Alistair away to get dried and clothed and then doing the same for me. One night she quickly popped out to get a towel. Alistair was irritating me. I don’t know if he was crying, or babbling away. All I know is that he was making a noise and I wanted him to stop. So I sat on him. My mother came into the bathroom to find his head completely under the water. He was under the water for no more than a few seconds, but I can still remember the panic and shock on her face. I didn’t understand what drowning was and I didn’t know what my actions may have led to. I had that explained to me pretty quickly by my then very angry mother. It must have been pretty terrifying for her to come into the bathroom and see that.
We did get on, for the most part. We bickered a lot, but nothing too nasty, although my parents would disagree. Some of the fights we had weren’t ones that Alistair would probably like to admit to.
I had a jewellery bucket filled with the type of big plastic jewellery little girls often get given, along with cheap costume jewellery my mother no longer wanted. One night, as my mother was putting the car in the garage, I found Alistair was playing with my jewellery bucket. I straight away wanted to play with it myself, and so we began to fight. He was tugging at the one side of the bucket, I was tugging at the other, our voices getting louder and louder. He then bit my thumb. My mother came back into the house to the sound of our yells, took one look at the situation and sent us both to our naughty chairs. I was indignant at this. I felt that, yes, ok, we were both fighting, but since he had resorted to biting me, he should be punished more. My mother did not agree. So off to our different rooms we went, and on our naughty chairs we sat.
The chairs were these wicker constructions, perfectly sized for little children to sit on. We each had one in our rooms and that was where we sat for a few minutes after we’d misbehaved. Partially as punishment and partially to get the two of us away from each other long enough for tensions to die down. The room that I had was pretty big. It had a single bed on one side, and my toy boxes and such down the other. It also had a really big window that I could climb out of. Our house was a bungalow, so the drop from the window to the floor wasn’t at all big. I’d be sent to the naughty chair by my mother, would sit down for a few seconds until I was certain she wasn’t coming back for a while and would then climb out the window and play outside for a bit. The window was on the side of the house, no one could see that part of the garden unless they stuck their head out of my brothers window. It felt like I was out there for ages, although I’m sure that it was no longer than a minute or two. I’d pop back into my room and sit down on my chair, ready to pretend to my mother that I’d been sitting there all that time. I don’t think I did it every time I was punished, but I do know I did it a few times and managed to never get caught. I told my mother about it a few years ago, and she laughingly said she could well believe I’d done that.