I will never forget the feeling of waking up before everyone in my house in the morning before a school day. The sun would sing with me as its rays beamed through the living room and stretched into the dining and kitchen area. Every moment I had alone was a gift in a house of seven. I’m the eldest daughter in my family: I have three younger sisters, plus a younger and an older brother. Suffice it to say, our house was dominated and run by the girls.
We’d do morning prayer together. Hooya, our mother, would light frankincense, and we’d line up after taking turns performing ablution in the bathroom sink. Feet touching, we’d pray in sync. Almost all of our daily tasks and the routines that involved taking care of our bodies and our survival were communal. From helping each other wrap our hijabs to swapping items in one another’s closets to cooking and divvying up the chores, I rarely did anything alone.
As much as I loved my “me time” in the morning, I loved the symphony of movement around the bathrooms, mirrors, and kitchen. Getting ready in the morning felt like being a part of a disorganized assembly line — our limbs reached around one another to grab breakfast foods, hair ties, or extra pens and pencils before the school day. I, without anyone asking, would take it upon myself to “delegate.” Tasks that would be lonely without the four of us became entertaining. Even when I wasn’t trying to be a tyrant.
Time doesn’t slip through your fingers like sand when everyone has a hand in trying to achieve something simple, like, for instance, detangling a head of hair with cornrows and laid edges. On the weekends, as we got ready for the school week, Hooya would put me to work. I was responsible for my youngest sister’s hair. She’d sit right under me, bracing herself for the tugs and pain of the detangling process. Before it even started, we would be red in the face. I would be visibly sweating, partly because of laziness, and partly because doing hair is a workout, and we’d all wear a hijab to school anyway. As she’d yelp in pain, my other sisters or aunties who would come through would step in, annoyed with my outward displays of defeat. Four hands combed, detangled, and braided her tiny head, and she’d gleefully run to the bathroom mirror, in awe of what had been accomplished.
As the eldest daughter, I grew up with a God complex, and with a lot of bold, different personalities under one roof, fighting was inevitable. Even on our best days, my sisters and I would argue. My father would always gather us together and talk to us about how we’re stronger together. He’d take a bunch of pencils, wrap rubber bands around them, and ask us to try and break them in half. We’d all take turns with our tiny hands and weak wrists, trying to prove his theory wrong. Then he’d ask us to try and break the pencils one by one, and each of us would break the pencils in half. He’d tilt his head in a nod; his body language said, See? Although I fantasized about how my life might have been if no one had been born after me, I later came to the realization that my siblings, this community in our house, didn’t take anything away from me. I learned how to put aside time for all of my siblings’ concerns. There are days where they all call me at once, frustrated. Our father’s passing put me in a position where I needed to parent them and at times fight for them to do the things I was never allowed to do, because together, we were unbreakable.