Lucía, the Copycat

I grew up with two older brothers.

I recognize how influential they were on me and the shaping of my personality, my tastes, and my actions. For the second and third-born children, older siblings are the most powerful sources of inspiration and encouragement, and not until recently, when we moved into a van to cross South America over ten months, did I realize just how much by watching my daughters.

Everything Elisa does and says, every movement she makes, is repeated by her 2-year-old sister. If Elisa dances, Lucia dances. If Elisa wants to wear her hat out, Lucia immediately goes to look for her hat. When Elisa takes off her jacket, Lucia follows suit. If Elisa picks up a stick, stick-finding suddenly becomes the most important thing in the world. Even urination becomes an if-she-can-do-it-so-can-I activity.

Food is different. Fortunately, due to the undeniable urge and the tenacious spirit of survival, Lucia regards her sister’s pickiness for food and reticence to eating with disdain. She eats everything, she eats what she wants, and even ends up eating her older sister’s meals, a curious form of idolatry!

We recently spent a week in Pasto, Nariño (One of Colombia’s coldest corners), rock climbing in the deep canyons formed on the sides of Galeras Volcano. We stayed with a friend of the climbing community and spent rainy days and nights crafting submarines out of empty water bottles and fashioning little flags on sticks with the names Elisa and Lucia. The flags identified each girl as a sovereign country, two queens who are best friends but constantly bicker. Allies who share a common border but throw up walls during tantrums. Trade is free market (when mami and papi are not looking) otherwise manipulated by the older sister. After all, she calls the shots in the diplomacy of sisterhood. To Queen Elisa goes the seniority, the experience, and knowledge; to Queen Lucia, the leftovers. Now and again, Queen Lucia oversteps her borders, and the two face off, alighting little-fist punches and entangled hair-pulling. Sometimes there is war, but usually just a war of screaming and tears.

On our final day in Pasto, as we prepared the backpack and gear for a day of sport climbing at a local-favorite crag called Hombrecitos, light showers crossed the skies. Although Hombrecitos stays dry in rainy conditions, Ignacia wondered if she was going to be watching two kids in the rain while I climbed. Seizing on the opportunity of doubt, Elisa perked up saying she preferred a day of activities in the Rainbow. Instead of climbing and playing in the dirt, she preferred to do art, making animal masks, followed by tea time on the roof, and watching the shapeshifting clouds move from dolphins to butterflies. I would be climbing alone, I thought, surely Lucia was going to follow Elisa on this issue, ever the tag-a-long sister, two peas in a pod.

“Voy con papá!” (I’m going with papa) Lucia said, firm and with no hesitation, as the rain and wind picked up, and a mosaic of dark clouds concealed Galeras above us.

“Lucia, do you want to stay with Elisa and la mamá and play games and make masks in the Rainbow?” I asked, half hoping for a day of climbing sans kids.

“Quiero escalar con papá,” (I want to climb with papa).

Apparently, the copycat-gene only goes so far. Two year old Lucia proved she can flex her individuality, obey personal whims and impulses, and show that each person’s life journey is never predetermined, not by our parents, not by our siblings, not by anybody.

In one month, Lucia turns three (probably in Peru) and our van life continues to help her grow, veering further and further from the path of her sister. But the journey is long. Children become teenagers, then young adults, and by then, the path is complex, pulling them in a myriad of directions.

Will Lucia be the rock climber? Will Elisa be the artist? Their personalities seem to be saying this, yet each daughter is as different as I am from their mother.

Lucia may want to have a submarine and a flag just like the ones that Elisa has, but what she does with it is a choice she will make.

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