What I Know About Sisters Now That I’m In My 40s

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Here’s what I know about sisters in my 47th year:

Gina and I with our dad Easter of 1971

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.

With my sister again in 1971.

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.

Fortunately …

It’s never too late to fall in love with your sister.

My sister and I in San Francisco 2010

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23 comments

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  1. Mitchell Capalbo
    Mitchell Capalbo 20 July, 2012, 10:26

    Wow… I thought I knew Shannon .. I guess when you really think you know everything about your childhood friends. You really dont, Just as they probably thought they knew everything about me and my family. Okay shannon.. you write with so much expression and love. I hope you are happy ( Im crying ) lol yes a 46 yr old man crying.

    I have a few friends who were adopted, but never really thought how they felt about their brothers or sisters. as you know I come from a family of 5 boys, no sisters. all from the same parents. we had our fights, we all attended church on sundays, we all had our chores to do. And yes we played together, rode bikes together.ect.. But you know.. I need to call them and tell them I love them too. Thank you. And tell Gina I said hello :o)

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 20 July, 2012, 10:51

      Hi Mitch — you’re too sweet. And yes, call your brothers and send them some love. We’re lucky to have our siblings.

      Reply this comment
  2. dusty earth mother
    dusty earth mother 20 July, 2012, 11:32

    That was awesome, Shannon. I was never close to my sister growing up and in the last five years, we’ve grown a lot in our relationship, so this really hit home.

    Reply this comment
  3. OCMomActivities- Katie
    OCMomActivities- Katie 20 July, 2012, 13:36

    Beautiful post! Lucky girls!

    I feel so left out because I was the only daughter of my parents (they both had children from previous marriages) and I was the youngest by 15 years. I never had that sibling relationship and I feel left out!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 20 July, 2012, 13:49

      Well there’s always the option of choosing a sister. It’s funny, I am still best friends with my two friends I met in the 3rd grade. There’ve been many times we’ve been closer than my sister and I.

      Reply this comment
  4. Gina
    Gina 20 July, 2012, 15:44

    This was beautiful. You know that I have relied on you so much – you have been my rock and my inspiration so many times in my life. I love you so much!! Thank you for this sweet tribute. G

    Reply this comment
  5. Carol D
    Carol D 20 July, 2012, 16:14

    That was really beautiful. My sister and I (she is 2 years older than I am) fought like cats and dogs until the day she got married at 18 then we cried and cried. She moved far from home and I was only able to see her 1 or 2 times a year. We are both in our 50’s and are very close. We still have those same insecurities, but she is my touchstone now that we have lost our parents. I am still BFF with my BFF from the 5th grade and I know my sister is jealous of that relationship just like I’m jealous of her on some things. I think that is just normal. I love her so much though and her opinion is sometimes the only one that matters.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 20 July, 2012, 16:45

      I’ve found that family relationships are always the most challenging, but also the most profound. The older I get the more lucky I feel to have the family I stumbled into. Thanks for your story too Carol.

      Reply this comment
  6. Alexandra
    Alexandra 20 July, 2012, 19:18

    I love you, too, for being brave enough to admit your jealousy and to change the way you think about your sister. Beautiful piece – I’m sure your sister boohooed when she saw it!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 20 July, 2012, 23:14

      She actually swung by for a surprise visit tonight and made my day perfect. xo

      Reply this comment
  7. Richelle Garn
    Richelle Garn 20 July, 2012, 21:12

    Shannon. Tears in my eyes. I think this is one of my favorite posts. Just a sweet reminder for us all to link our sisters. I’ve been blessed with two and I have to admit, I’m jealous of her too!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 20 July, 2012, 23:16

      Hi Richelle — you and your sisters have the most gorgeous eyes so I have cousin jealousy. I really need to start working on some other emotions. Sigh.

      Reply this comment
  8. Michelle
    Michelle 20 July, 2012, 22:38

    I loved your post! I used to babysit for Gina’s darling family and think they are wonderful too! You sound just as wonderful!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 20 July, 2012, 23:17

      You Did? I can’t believe my sister’s girls are so grown up. They’re all driving. Which worries me in more ways than one. And her youngest is 12 and a natural born gentleman. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply this comment
  9. Tammy Winn
    Tammy Winn 21 July, 2012, 01:03

    Shannon,
    What a sweet story! Tomorrow, I am going to wake up, enjoy a cup of coffee and…Call my sister! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 21 July, 2012, 10:33

      I’m happy to get those phone calls happening. My sister surprised me and came over last night with my brother-in-law and the four of us (Henry too) just had some good laughs.

      Reply this comment
  10. Caryn B
    Caryn B 22 July, 2012, 16:59

    Shannon…I love this post…you have an incredible way with words…I don’t have any siblings so I don’t personally have that kind of bond/experience which was why it was important that we have at least 2 children. I wanted that for them

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 22 July, 2012, 23:08

      I’m grateful my girls have each other. And lately they’ve been laughing more than terrorizing. Fingers crossed.

      Reply this comment
  11. CeeCee
    CeeCee 23 July, 2012, 23:30

    What a wonderful, honest post. How dare Gina be so sweet that you can’t even properly hate her ;-) Happy for you both to realize how much you mean(t) to each other. And I love the darling old photos of you two as sincere and slightly heartbroken kids! But someone tell me why all the 70s photos have that vaguely orangeish brownish tint, much like the shag carpets of yore?

    Reply this comment

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