My sister Rachel and I were mortal enemies for the entirety of our childhood. I can’t tell you why, other than the fact that we were sisters, three years apart in age and miles apart in personalities. I am the older of the two of us and was naturally born into a position of power, or at least perceived power. I took advantage of my unspoken supremacy whenever possible – marching into Rachel’s room whenever I felt like it and borrowing clothes just because I could, and certainly not because we shared the same taste in fashion. She, on the other hand, obediently waited at my door for an invitation to enter. Not so much as a toe crossed the line between hallway and doorframe unless I granted permission. She never dared even ask to borrow a single item of clothing.
When it suited me, she was my play date, though our sessions never lasted very long. Rachel could never play a scene to my satisfaction in the intense dollhouse soap operas I authored and directed. I did occasionally take pleasure in the teacher role. Under my tutelage, Rachel learned how to tie her shoes, touch type and do long division. While we remember these rare moments fondly, we both agree that we spent the majority of our childhood taunting, bickering, and inflicting pain unseemly of young ladies. I still have a doozy of a scar on my hand to show for it. On a good day, we took to our corners and ignored each other. While I’m sure neither one of us wished the other permanent nor disfiguring harm, we simply did not like each other. At all.
When we moved out of our childhood home, we moved out of each other’s lives. There was no Facebook to keep us even superficially connected. Eventually, in adulthood, we found our way back to each other. Motherhood was the great equalizer. Childhood residue flaked away with every conversation about the successes and frustrations of parenthood. We learned to accept and even appreciate our differences. We found unexpected support in each other and the sublime comfort that comes from yelling at your kids while you’re on the phone and knowing you won’t be judged for it. In the early years, our conversations were constantly studded with outbursts like:
“Don’t you dare do that to your brother!”
“Yes, that looks very funny. Now, please take that out of your underwear.”
“OH NO!! You’re not supposed to use THAT MUCH toilet paper!”
“Excuse me! I’m trying to use the phone!”
Rachel and I are older, wiser, and more tolerant now, and I am grateful that my sister is in my life. I wonder if our boys will find the joys in brotherhood.
At the ages of 9 and 6, I can say that they are best friends. Their personalities are just as disparate as mine and my sister’s were, yet they seem to like each other. They want to spend time together. They think about each other when the other isn’t there.
I’d love to take credit for their brotherly love, but I know it’s nothing we’ve done or said. I’d also love to believe that they will be each other’s best friend for the rest of their lives. But I know there are no guarantees. Will they turn on each other over politics? Will their spouses drive wedges between them? Will they move far away from each other and simply drift apart with age? Luckily, there will be no fortune to fight over when Gabriella and I are gone. But aside from leaving them penniless, what else can we do to encourage fraternal friendship? It’s a rhetorical question. All I can do now is savor the bond they have in the present and hope that they are able to nurture an even deeper relationship in the future. Siblings can be treasures but they take work. Just ask my sister. She’ll tell you she’s worked hard to meet me half way. But I think she’d also tell you that it’s worth the effort. I’d say the same.