Wednesday, July 1, 2009


I've been thinking about sisters a lot lately. I miss my sisters terribly, and watching my girls at play reminds me of the bond we sisters share.

It's not just about being family. Its about the shared memories, the in-jokes, the pet names and the dramas. It's about the fights, the laughs, and the things we simply don't talk about, but remember together. The good times, and the bad times.

My girls are quite close at the moment. The gap between them is three years, and they are still mostly able to play nicely together. Mostly. Today they are rehearsing for a "concert" that they are planning on putting on for us one Sunday in July.

Eldest Daughter is very organised. She has a list of "items" and issues instructions in a very definite manner. Younger Daughter is generally compliant, and happily (for now) follows the required steps to the dance Eldest Daughter has choreographed to Taylor Swift's Love Story (her current favourite song). [Aside: if I hear the song one more time today, I may just puke.]

I remember my Big Sister organising similar shows - I vaguely recall doing ABBA songs and Nativity plays, but I doubt I was as compliant as Younger Daughter is. Maybe that is a specific defense mechanism designed by Little Sisters. I was a Middle child, and fumed quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) at being unable to make my sisters do things my way. And it wasn't just the concerts...

Why would Little Sister willingly go to the shop for Big Sister, and not for me? It bugged me for years, and eventually (when we were past our teens), they finally let me in on the secret. Blackmail. Big Sister would tell Little Sister (who was a gentle soul) that she would run away if she didn't do it.... Now that is sisterhood for you!

When they told me, it caused a huge amount of laughter, and more sharing of the funny things we did.

One of my best Big Sister memories stems from when I was about 11 or 12. It was 1985, and I was about to head off to my first school disco. Big Sister was already in highschool, a veteran of these affairs (and other stuff too....). I was worried because I didn't know how to dance. What if I looked stupid (a big issue when you are 11) or did the wrong thing. Big Sister took me into the lounge that afternoon, and put her record on (we're talking pre-CD days here). And taught me to dance to the sounds of Tainted Love by Soft Cell.

Everytime I hear that song, I remember and smile. It meant so much to me at the time - I was often so in awe of Big Sister, who got to do grown-up things before me - everything from wearing a bra (also a big deal when you're 11) to going to late night parties. It was IMPORTANT to me, to be noticed.

I always wonder if I was a good Bigger Sister to my Younger Sister. I desperately wanted to be, but I was often impatient and got frustrated easily. Younger Sister's quiet way hid a certain strength and independence. She didn't need another bossy big sister - we both had one already.

Younger Sister and I were much closer in age - and much closer in location - for most of our childhood we shared a room, and spent a lot of time blaming each other for the messy room/cupboard. Fights were par for the course (although we didn't fight all the time, I'm sure my parents thought we did).

We'd take turns to "move out" - I remember setting up home in another room in the house, or under the bed, just to have space of my own. Or she'd do it. For some reason, the bathroom was a popular choice. We never dared suggest one of us move in with Big Sister....

But then there were the times we hung those horrid old green bumpy bedspreads between our beds and created tents and magical worlds were we would have endless fun with our imagination and the First Love/ Baby Angel dolls.

I remember that as children, we had times when we were really close, and then as we grew older, our lives changed and although we didn't grow apart, we grew seperately. The age gaps seemed to loom larger, and there were times that we didn't appear to have much in common. But we were still sisters. And beware anyone that tried to hurt one of us - we may have been allowed to fight and scream at each other, but Others weren't allowed to. They were MY sisters.

Things changed again when we started leaving home. Unsuprisingly, Big Sister was first. And then Little Sister. I was the last to leave, and probably was the last to grow up - despite the fact that I was the one who was supposed to be "next."

Being apart was good for us - we gained new perspectives on ourselves, and on each other. We got married, and had children.

And changed our relationship again. Since we had children of our own, our relationship as sisters has grown stronger. All of sudden we were the same in a way that we hadn't been before. Age gaps no longer seem to matter. In fact Little Sister has quietly become the big sister in many ways. Motherhood has helped us see the things we share, instead of the things we don't. And we've shared the pain of loss - stillbirths, miscarriages and change.

We may be continents apart now, but we're closer than ever in lots of ways. I know if I have a bad day, and pick up the phone, one of my sisters will be on the other end, and will Understand. About the dramas our children give us (much like we gave our parents) and about the things they do that make us laugh. Or simply about Stuff. Memories.

I miss my sisters everyday, more than I miss anything else about South Africa. I tell my girls often - your sister is the only friend you'll have your entire life. Treasure her.