It seems like yesterday we were bickering about which one of us deserved the privilege of sitting in the front seat of the station wagon. Whose turn it was to wash the dishes or clean up after the dogs? Who “borrowed” whose brand-new sweater? (Or lip gloss? Curling iron? Shampoo?) Who had a crush on which boy first? Which one of us was Mom and Dad’s true favorite?
Sibling rivalry can get nasty. But among sisters, it can be downright vicious.
All of these tit-for-tats ran through my mind as I plunged into the first leg of a mini-triathlon race this past weekend. It was 8 a.m. on a Saturday, and I was sharing a chilly swimming lane with Younger Sister #1. We’re just seventeen months apart, and when we were growing up, she seemed to be my ultimate rival. Twenty-five years ago, we could barely be in the same room, let alone engage in the same activity, without turning it into an all-out death match. But this time around, neither one of us was out to crush the other. We were just doing something together. For the fun of it. Crazy, huh? We couldn’t help giggling just before the start, “Remember swim team?” The last time we shared a lane had probably been during swim practice as kids. I would venture to guess it didn’t last even one length of the pool.
But not today. Sister #1 finished our 500-meter dash a couple of strokes ahead of me. As I pulled myself out of the pool, I wondered just for a second if she’d left me in the dust. I instantly felt bad for the thought crossing my mind when I saw her patiently waiting for me to catch up. We jumped on our bikes and pushed on.
All this thanks to Sister #2 (six years my junior), who flew in for the weekend to pitch in. She was spending the morning at my house, chasing after my twin two-year-olds. Sister #2 and I never got down in the dirt like Sister #1 and I. But we certainly had our moments of tension and lots of stupid tiffs during the years we shared a bedroom. She still loves to tell everyone about all of the beauty sleep she lost because I could never stop yapping at bedtime.
So, with Sister #1 at my side and Sister #2 covering the home front, this was an occasion to celebrate. True, as the years have flown by, we’ve grown up and grown into our own individual identities. We always talked (except for the odd blow-up here or there). But until now, I don’t think that we appreciated each other as people and as friends. For me, I attribute this unexpected new ground to motherhood. I am the first child in my family and the first to have children. I really wasn’t sure how becoming a mom would change the dynamic with my sisters. Of course, you always hope that a new addition to the family will bring everyone closer together. Yet after all the years of arguments and slights, I honestly wasn’t quite sure how it would all shake out.
About a year ago, I interviewed relationship expert Dr. Jenn Berman for The Well Mom about navigating new motherhood and sisterhood. She told me that becoming a new mother doesn’t give you a free pass to be totally self-involved. She said if you want to maintain relationships with your sister (and girlfriends) that, first and foremost, you’ve got to be a good friend. “If you want to stay connected, you have to make the effort … If your single friend tells you about her wild night on the town and you are not so interested, remember she’s probably not so interested in Diaper Genies,” Berman said.
I tried my hardest to follow her advice. And while I tried to be a good listener, my sisters did the same. They cheered me on as I struggled to lose the baby weight and toiled with my identity shift. And most importantly, they loved the new babies. They took it upon themselves to shower my son and daughter with so much affection and attention. My toddlers now have their own special relationships with Auntie M and Auntie CC. It is so cool. Somehow, these little people bridged all of those years of acrimony and competition with their happy dances and delighted screams at the sight of Sisters #1 and #2. My sisters’ role in our lives has become a wonderful, unexpected gift of motherhood.
When we finally started our four and a half mile run to round out the tri, I was getting tired. My hip was aching—a nagging injury from carrying the kids on one side. But Sister #1 kept reminding me why were we there. We weren’t in it to win it. We were doing this for fun and in a little while, we’d be celebrating over Chinese food and ice cream with Sister #2, the babies, and my husband. We walked a little when I needed to slow down and talked non-stop about everything. Her job, my work, Sister #2 (oh, and we have a brother, too), our parents, my husband and his family, everything. Just like old pals. As we crossed the finish line, we lagged behind the stronger athletes. But we didn’t care. We’d won something much more precious.