It’s my little sister’s birthday today. With only 13 months between us, we have always been very close: best friends, playmates, antagonists, vyers for our parents’ attention.
The relationship between sisters is an especially precious one. Older sisters practice mothering the younger ones. I had seven of these “mothers” as I grew up, and I idolized them: their clothes, their hairstyles, their high-heeled shoes, their sophistication. I tried to be older than I was, bragging to anyone who would listen that “when I become a five-year-old teenager, I’m going to smoke.” I insisted that I could read long before I actually had the ability to do so. And being named one of the “little kids” in my family was a source of disgruntlement for me.
Yet my older sisters took me under their wings. They would spin elaborate fantasies when we played pretend. I remember secret meetings in little attic rooms in our house and twirling around into a world of fairy princesses and evil witches. My big sisters took me on adventures downtown in our suburban village and to the city beach on hot summer days. I even learned the basics about sex from them rather than my mom. When I was in junior high, one of them gave me a book that told me everything I needed to know, but was afraid to ask. Even when I entered the world of technical adulthood, my oldest sister was there to reassure me and help me out. She drove me down to move into college and would sometimes visit me there on weekends. I have relied on my older sisters, and my oldest in particular, to guide me through marriage and motherhood.
My two daughters have a very similar relationship. Eleven years apart, they are more like mother and daughter than sisters sometimes. In fact, I think I am a bit easier on my youngest than her big sister is. But they still share a sisterly bond that often unites them against their overbearing parents. They like to watch the same TV series filled with adolescent angst together. Now away at college, my younger daughter will often reach out to her older sister rather than to mom and dad for advice and moral support. The gift of an older sister is priceless.
My little sister and I, though, have a slightly different relationship born of our closeness in age. Little sis was the cuter and sweeter of the two of us, so she was my dad’s indisputable favorite. This made me jealous, and I would try to get her into trouble whenever I could. For instance, once I saw her sneak a candy from my mom’s prized box of chocolate-covered cherries, and I immediately tattled on her. For her part, she was often jealous of me because I got more grown-up clothes and privileges a little earlier than she did. We fought like the dickens as young children, and for years she sported a scar above her eye as a result of a scuffle near our bedroom radiator.
Yet little sis and I were and are also the best of friends. Being so close in age, we enjoyed the same activities: playing with dolls, swinging on the swingset and especially playing long games of pretend amidst the lilac bushes in our backyard. We looked so much alike that neighbors often couldn’t tell us apart. We have remained close throughout our lives, sharing college experiences and teaching stories. I was her maid of honor when she married. And we have seen each other through many times, good and bad. There is nothing I enjoy more in the world than a late night session drinking wine and gabbing with my little sister.
So little sis, I raise a glass of red to you on your birthday. May we always be best friends through the vicissitudes of life.