I have been thinking a lot this week about big sisters. I grew up with one pretty amazing big sister. Being eleven years older than I am never stopped her from taking time to make sure I grew up with strong feminism and an understanding of how to coordinate clothing.
For most of this week, I thought about the big sisters neither of us ever got to know. In 1971, my mother was pregnant with twin girls. Her water broke at around six months, and the girls died. I have visited their beautiful, shared grave, headstone decorated with a baby lamb and an angel. I have somehow always known about Jemma and Melanie. I don’t know who told me or when, but they’ve been in my heart all my life. I felt helpless on Thursday, when my dear friend Diana Stone gave birth much too soon to her twin boys. All I can offer her is my own family’s story of the big sisters who will never be forgotten, even though they lived only a few hours.
But now, the big sister who helped raise me is upset, and there is nothing I can do to help. To me, she is the smartest, most competent person in the entire world. She can do anything. I swear. She is the best mom and the best professor and the best wife all at the same time. So when I find out that she set out to do something and it didn’t work out, it takes me a long time to get over my first reaction: sheer confusion. Doesn’t the rest of the world see what I see? And why not?
I was told that I would grow out of this sister-hero-worship. Ha! Clearly, anyone who thinks that doesn’t know my sister. In more-or-less-chronological order, here are some of the reasons my sister is and always will be the most amazing woman I know.
- Even though she left home when I was six-years-old, my sister made a concerted effort to stay involved in my life. Even if that meant trying to talk to a six-year-old on the phone. (My sister: “Do you like first grade?” My mom, in the background: “Anne-Marie, she can’t see you! You have to say something, not just nod.”)
- She gave me the most thoughtful gifts every birthday and every Christmas. Birthdays were for books–Little House books, a series called Dealing with Dragons about a feminist princess (I got one book in the series of four each year). Christmas was for books and board games, which she always played with me. Clue, Carmen Sandiego the board game, Monopoly Junior.
- After she studied abroad in France (at age 20), she brought me back a jar of Nutella and a box of cookies referred to in America as “Little Lu” or “Little Schoolboy” cookies. They have lots of chocolate on top. I love them to this day. And a book, of course, called Linnea in Monet’s Garden, which was the best and most thoughtful way possible to share her love of Monet and to tell me about her trip to the house where he painted all those waterlilies. She successfully brought France to a nine-year-old in Northern Minnesota! I mean, how cool is that?! When I went to France at age 21, all I could think at first was “It’s just like my sister said it would be!” She makes a mean crepe, too.
- She told me about the misogynist themes in the Disney movies long before that was a widely discussed topic. My once beloved Little Mermaid was scorned. How could she just live her life entirely for men like that?! Ugh! But we still shared a love of the music from the good soundtracks.
- She drove us to Duluth, MN, an hour and a half from our parents’ house, to see Beauty and the Beast the first day it came out. And she drove us home through one of the worst thunder stormsI have ever seen. It was the Minnesota equivalent of a hurricane. And she managed to only snap at me once, even though I blubbered and cried that I just wanted to be home and asked her twenty-five times if we were lost.
- She sang and will sing, to this day, any Disney song you feel like singing from the movies I watched 10 million times in her presence. (Provided she has the time–the woman has two children and a more than full-time job nowadays.) She knows all the words to every song. It’s amazing. That song in The Little Mermaid where the chef sings to the fish? “Les poisons, les poisons, how I LOVE les poisons!” Yeah, she could at one point sing the entire thing. Even the French parts. She probably still can, I just haven’t asked in awhile.
- She can sing opera. For real. Mozart and stuff. In foreign languages. And does, at university benefit talent show events.
- Just before I transitioned from elementary to middle school, my sister went to a talk about the “self-esteem gap” middle school girls face. It was a book talk by author Peggy Orenstein who was promoting her excellent book Schoolgirls. She gave me the signed copy she received that day, which not only set me up to survive some middle school misery by repeating to myself “this is normal” and “this will end” but also set me up for a life-long friendship with Peggy, who has been corresponding with me ever so graciously since I wrote to her as a teen.
- Every summer, beginning when I was 12 and ending when I left for college, my sister let me stay with her for three-four weeks in Los Angeles, where she was getting her PhD at UCLA. At the time, I had no idea what a big deal this was, especially since I later got the impression that my parents didn’t reimburse her much for all the money she spent on me. I saw the ocean. She took me to Sea World, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Six Flags: Magic Mountain. She took me to see Breakfast at Tiffanies and Gone with the Wind in actual movie theaters during my Old Hollywood phase.
- During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, she took me to visit Barnard College, the college I would attend and love with all my heart, even though I thought I had already decided on another school in the area. (Our visit to that other school was a total bust.)
I’ll stop there, even though I could go on through my twenties. Our relationship has changed and grown, especially after she became a mother and could no longer mother me the way she used to. But you get the idea, right?
Do you have a sibling who means the world to you? Are you the person a sibling looks up to?