My sister lives in Seattle, all the way across the country from my home outside of Philadelphia. While we communicate regularly, we only get to see each other once a year.
I’m the classic oldest child: responsible, eager to please, a real rule follower, while she’s clearly the youngest: the rebel without a cause, as we used to joke.
I finished college and went on to get a Master’s degree in education before launching a career as a teacher. I got married in my late 20s and had two children. She’s traveled all over the world, lived in other countries and spends her time paragliding and snowboarding.
We’re five years apart and we couldn’t be more different. Despite those differences and the physical distance that’s been between us for years, we’re still incredibly close. There’s nothing quite like a sister.
We grew up together. We know each other’s deepest secrets and biggest dreams. We can speak honestly to each other in ways that we can with few other people. With just a glance at each other, we can speak in silence, drawn together by our shared history.
Our relationship was not always easy. Those five years really made a big difference when we were kids. She and my brother are only 20 months apart, so for much of our childhood, they were very close, playing made up games together and eventually going to the same parties and dating one another’s friends. They felt a million years younger than me, but then again, I’ve always been an old soul.
Things started to shift when she was in 8th grade. For that year, we were at the same school. I was a senior and would drive her to and from school every day, meaning we suddenly were spending more one on one time together, apart from the rest of our family.
We were still too far apart in age for real bonding. I probably confessed things to her that I shouldn’t have like details about my new boyfriend, but I wanted to let her to feel comfortable with sharing the same stories with me someday.
While I was away at college, she was going through her dramatic, rebellious teenage years at home with my parents. I often didn’t find out exactly what she had been up to until much later, but I put myself forward as a buffer between her and my parents. I tried to keep the peace, which wasn’t always easy.
After graduating, we ended up living together in a tiny Manhattan apartment. She was finishing up high school in the city. Living with a 17-year-old maybe wasn’t the best plan, but I was grateful to not be alone in such a new, overwhelming environment.
Sharing 425 square feet with any person is a major challenge. I like to think that living together brought us closer. It certainly helped me appreciate being alone when she did move out, but we also got to know each other better as adults and had some really fun times.
We would cook together or spend rainy days watching movies and drinking peach champagne. We went to a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight, dressed to the nines and explored all the restaurants of our neighborhood. Even if we did bicker periodically or tension built because of the small space, I know I was grateful for her presence.
At that point, we started to become more equal.
Growing up, she was always the adorable little blonde girl. I was always the awkward, bespectacled brunette. It always felt like she got all the attention from strangers because when I was going through my gawky teenage years, she was still this adorable little girl.
She is much more relaxed and “go with the flow” than I am. I’m very type A and organized. Everything about her always seems easier. She’s less eager to impress or please people than I am and always seemed more comfortable in her own skin. Everything from her choices in fashion to boyfriends just seemed better. I could never pull off her personality (or her clothes!).
But as I got older, she helped me learn to appreciate myself, just as I am.
She’s still the only person who can make me feel like a caricature of myself: overly obsessed with details and anal about routine, but as the years went on, I learned to roll my eyes at her antics as much as she rolls her eyes at mine. I learned to love myself just as I am, especially when I learned to see myself through her eyes.
One night we went out in Manhattan with friends. We reached a point in the night where while I was still having fun, I was also getting tired and didn’t really feel like drinking anymore. I said my goodbyes and left. The next day she admitted that she was impressed with my will power and self-awareness. I knew I wasn’t going to miss anything life-changing and I was also able to get myself home safely and get a good night’s sleep. Nerdy? Sure, maybe, but her comment made me realize that my sister appreciates the very qualities in me that she also mocks as only a sister can.
I miss my sister all the time. There is no one that knows me as well as she does, except for my husband, but my shared history with her started 13 years before I even met him. There are few people I have as much fun with, from dressing up and making fancy drinks to hysterically laughing over a movie to sharing each other’s clothes.
There is a hole in my heart that is only healed when we are catching up over Facetime or the rare times when we get to see each other in person.
A recent study revealed that having a sister helps you become a better person for a variety of reasons. Some include: helping you develop social skills, achieving balance, being more independent, boosting your self-esteem and becoming more compassionate. British psychologist, Tony Cassidy says “Emotional expression is fundamental to good psychological health and having sisters promotes this in families.”
So there you have it, even science backs up how special having a sister is.
Raising two girls isn’t always the easiest, but I’m so grateful that my daughters have each other. They’re the best of friends now, even as they’re learning to navigate sharing and playing together, and I only hope that as they grow older, their bond will deepen and no matter how different they are, that they will always be as close as my sister and I are.
“For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.” – Christina Rossetti, “Goblin Market”