July 20th, 2012
Here’s what I know about sisters in my 47th year:
The truth will set you free
I’ve been jealous of my younger sister, Gina, for as long as I can remember. Well, that’s not completely true. She did have a really unattractive Dorothy Hamill haircut in 1975. But aside from that she’s an over-achiever. She grew breasts before me even though she’s sixteen months younger.
She married her high school sweetheart and produced four of the loveliest children before I even got to the altar.
She earned her law degree while pregnant with her fourth child, edited the Law Review and graduated second in her class.
Fifteen years into her law career she wrote a book that is to be published next winter called Mormon Mom Among Murderers. The title alone makes me want to read it. And she’s decided – at the ripe old age of 45 – to get her MBA. Pretty despicable, right?
So two years ago, as I festered in a sea of self-loathing for my pettiness, I picked up the phone and called Gina while she was commuting home from work. My heart was pounding, my palms were sweating and my fragile ego raged against me admitting any sort of weakness when it came to her. But I did it anyway.
I confessed my green-eyed envy. The silence on the phone became vast. Did she think I was an idiot? Was she smugly rejoicing? Did she think I was pathetic? No. All she said was “I love you.”
With that one honest admission and her loving response all of my walls began to crumble. All of my competitiveness began to wash away and my heart opened up to rediscover this lovely woman I slept one foot away from most of my childhood.
Blood isn’t thicker than water
My sister and I aren’t blood related. My dad and her mom married when we were two and three. My dad adopted Gina legally because her birth father wasn’t in the picture.
Thanks to Facebook Gina found her half-sister last year. She has a few other half-siblings out there as well. She and her half-sister decided to meet for lunch, then Gina came over directly after to tell me about it.
As I listened all I could think was, “You better not fall in love with her because you are mine. Mine I tell you! You are my sister because I climbed into bed with you after Zombie nightmares. And because we reconfigured our furniture a thousand times to make our bedroom new and exciting. And because we built tents out of quilts and watched tv inside them. And because, in our teens, we confessed our secrets to one another and kept them safe. I am your sister because I grew up smelling, hugging, kissing, fighting, touching, hating and loving you day in and day out every day of our lives.
Don’t worry about who your parents favor more. Be each other’s favorite.
Sibling rivalry is real and I think unavoidable. Even the most educated, intelligent, compassionate parents can’t entirely circumvent their children’s certainty that one of the other sibling is the better loved. As adults that feeling doesn’t go away.
The familial roles we adopt in childhood linger. I was the daydreamer lacking common sense while my sister was the capable one. I was “the writer,” “the athlete” while Gina was “the dancer” and “the cheerleader.” Ironically I later made money as a dancer (not that kind of dancer!) and my sister’s book will be published in the winter.
When I find sibling rivalry raising its hoary head I stay humble and open with my sister and she with me. She’s my favorite sister. True she’s my only sister, but still.
Step out of your own skin and see things from your sister’s point of view
I moved in with my dad, stepmom and Gina when I was nine and she was eight. It was a difficult transition and I desperately missed my mom. Over the years the story I told myself about Gina was that she was mean to me when I moved in. That she should have seen my suffering and been nicer.
Then a couple of years ago my dad told me a story I’d never heard. A few weeks after I moved in Gina didn’t come home from school on the bus. Night was falling with no sign of her. When my dad got home from work my stepmom told him to drive through the neighborhood and look for her because she suspected Gina had run away. She and my dad were beside themselves.
My father drove through the small town of Upland searching in the gathering gloom for my sister when he spied her lingering at the edge of one of the multitude of orange groves in our city.
He hardly got the car in park and left the keys in the ignition when he catapulted out after her. As soon as she saw him Gina began to run. My dad told me he ran into the grove after her as she zigged and zagged. He was in a parallel row and was trying to time the moment he would leap on her. He was afraid if he missed she’d run on and disappear in the thick foliage.
He counted to three and jumped, tackling her. She sobbed and fought, but he picked her up and carried her home.
After hearing this story it dawned on me how hard a transition it must have been for my 8-year old sister to have my dad’s blood daughter move in. That she might have felt less than, somehow an outsider looking in, which is how I felt. We were so much more alike than either of us realized at the time.
It’s never too late to fall in love with your sister.
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