I say: “Un pain aux raisins, s’il te plaît,” my voice still full of sleep, my mouth dry and my eyes sticky. When he wakes us up for school our father always says that we smell of sleep and I don’t understand what that means. From their bedroom that is just next to mine I hear my sisters saying “Pain au chocolat.” “Moi aussi.” I have stopped asking for a pain au chocolat a while ago, although I don’t remember exactly when. Pain aux raisins just sounds more grown-up. It sounds like what an adult would choose to have for breakfast. All the adults of the world must love snail-shaped pastries filled with pastry cream and raisins. I have decided that pains au chocolat are for children. Being 8 still makes me a child, but being the oldest one in the family certainly doesn’t.
My sisters tease me about it, the same way they tease me when we come back from the countryside on Sunday evenings and all of my siblings are sent off to bed with baby’s bottles full of hot chocolate, even though we are not babies anymore, and I ask for warm milk with a little bit of honey, “in a bowl, please,” that I drink in the kitchen before going to bed. They tease me when I wince because of the sugary and somehow acid taste of ketchup in my burger, and carefully scrape it off, or when I’m disappointed to find crêpes on the dinner table, or when I don’t want to play their video games. They don’t like me breaking all the implicit rules of childhood, because they think those are ours, when really they are theirs.
We live in a world of children. There are so many of us. We are a wolf pack. We are a tribe. We are the whole world. Being part of the pack means I don’t need to make friends to have friends. It means we only need each other, or I only need them, it’s hard to know if they feel the same way. It means that adults don’t matter that much. They are these silhouettes that wake us up in the dark hours of the morning and ask what we want to eat for breakfast. They cut our tartines into as many pieces as there are syllables in our names. “I’m eating the ‘lo’ now.” They kiss our noses and leave that smell of saliva that we hate. They laugh and sometimes they yell when we are being silly in the back of the car. They are the reason why we’re here and they don’t matter that much and I so, so want to please them.
I want to be on their side — I am on their side — and my sisters cannot understand what that’s like. My sisters can hold hands with the younger ones and they can all run together towards the end of the world and I will always be ahead of them, reaching the edge of the cliff before they can even see it. I will always be the lightning rod between the wolf pack and the skies. And there is no one above me, or ahead of me, because we are the whole world and the adults are just silhouettes existing at its periphery. Sometimes I think they need me to break all the implicit rules of childhood so they don’t have to. That’s what big sisters do.
I do not force it that much. It is true that I don’t like ketchup and hot chocolate and sweet dinners and video games. It is also true that I don’t even like raisins that much and that chocolate does taste better, but that I will never admit. Every morning I say “Pain aux raisins” and it is my footbridge to the adult world and they never congratulate me for choosing it over the sweet taste of childhood.