Sibling Rivalry, Then and Now

We spent the last three nights with my younger sister, who lives in San Diego county, and doing so brought about a flood of thoughts and memories.

To begin with, I was never very close to this particular sister when growing up. She was four years younger than I, and completely different from me. We were a family of six children, and according to my mother, each of us had a particular level of expertise in just one thing. Sure, it made for a rather two dimensional personality, but I think it was easier for her to think of us in these terms. For example, since I was the oldest, I was the “smart” one. My next sister was the “crafty” one. My brother was the only male, so he could do no wrong. The baby, who is 18 years younger than me, was the terminally cute one. (Unfortunately for my fifth sibling, she was Jan Brady. Because of this, she displayed many negative behaviors associated with middle children.)

My San Diego sister, the third in line, was the “athletic” one. She was also very pretty, but her claim to fame was athletic prowess. She was a cheerleader all through high school, and turned her ability to twist herself into a pretzel into gymnastic gold. She had a gymnastics scholarship in college, and won regional competitions. She even rubbed elbows with Olympic gymnasts, until a minor Achilles injury sidelined her forever.

I, on the other hand, might have been smart, but I wasn’t smart enough to figure out a way to finish college. I was having too good of a time partying. It was the 70s, and completing college didn’t seem as important as having a good time. I was also painfully awkward when it came to the social graces. I grew up at the end of the hippie era, and didn’t wear the trendy clothing and didn’t pull off the big hair that was so popular at the end of the disco era. I can clearly remember this sister visiting me in Minneapolis, and I took her and my younger cousin to a blues bar even though both were underage. My sister managed to work her way from the front to the back of the bar, getting one guy to buy all of us a drink before flitting off to the next one and getting another drink. I don’t know where she got the charm, but she’s always been full of it.

After my sister graduated from college, she took the fast track, moving to LA and becoming swept up in even bigger circles of entertainment people. She had the kind of job where she was jetting off to Manhattan or Tokyo or Hong Kong and would name drop celebrities like it was no big deal. Because of this, I saw her as being shallow and self-absorbed. I called her “Hollywooden” and “Plastique” behind her back. We naturally lost touch because of my belief that we had nothing in common.

Fast forward to my mother’s death and the last ten years. I’ve discovered that she and I have far more in common that I originally believed. Each time I see her, I discover something new that I didn’t know, another precious jewel of her life with facets that blaze in glory.

Like me, she found her husband at work. True love took over where celebrity left off. These days, she’s a strict mother, much like me. I would have thought that since she once had so many Hollywood connections that she might be indulgent like many of the mothers in the OC, but no, she’s quite grounded when it comes to her daughter. I found out that she likes to sew, which was something I thought only I and Crafty Sister #2 liked to do. Another time, I found out that she makes jams and jellies from the fruit that her friends and neighbors give her.

The other day, I was sitting at her pool writing a story, when she poked her head out of the window and chided her twelve year old about something or another. I wasn’t paying much attention, just looking up over my laptop. In the fading afternoon light, I thought my sister, who always had a model’s good looks, looked much like my second sister, who I’ve always thought of as a person so down to earth that she breathed of earthworms. Then I closed my eyes, and the voice coming from Sister #3 sounded a lot like Sister #2.

I could kick myself for my mistaken perception and all the time I lost not being more of a sister. Like many things, age and time temper the roughest of edges. Where once I was concerned with someone else’s personality flaws, now I can see that there is always another side. Sometimes that side is much like looking into a mirror.


3 Responses

  1. At least you know now! You won’t waste any more time, now that you know.

  2. Huh. I have no insight, since there are only two of us and we’re only a year apart. Very insightful though.

  3. Yep, a lot of that resonates with me. I am the eldest sibling of four, so I, too, was dubbed the smart one. My brother, 2 years younger, can do no wrong. My middle sister, 4 years younger than me, is the pretty one. The youngest sister, 10 years younger than me, will always be the baby of the family.

    Oddly, I now seem to have become the athletic one, too.

    It is sooooo hard to fight those stereotypes, even as we get older. Congratulations to you for seeing beyond the two-dimensional to the complex reality beyond.

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