When my sister and I were young, we held dance recitals in our basement. Together with friends we would set up a line of metal folding chairs and string up an old sheet to use as a curtain. We’d fetch the battery operated tape recorder and don old dance costumes or plain, pink leotards; tap shoes and jazz slippers and tutus and sequins from the secret sequin mines of Graceland. We would rehearse and practice and then charge our mothers a dime to come and applaud us our Vaudevillan efforts. They always came. Mind you, this was back when they all smoked, so I’m sure the Pall Malls helped them endure thirty minutes of nine year-old choreography. We did variations of this type of show for years, sometimes tapping away, sometimes shuffle ball-changing across the concrete floor, until the older of the group were too old, until the lure of boys and talking about boys and fretting over boys proved too strong. Only then was the final curtain, or sheet in this case, closed.
In all those years, all those dance hall days, my sister only ever danced to one song: Rosanna, by Toto.
I’m not even sure that this is 100% true, but it has entered the family folklore. Along with the time I tried in vain to wiggle my ears, the infamous burning down of the woods, and the first time my sister rode her bike down the block, these shared memories are part of the Book of Honour, tagged and archived memories of our family.
My sister and I have had a running gag about Rosanna for a long time. After a back and forth on Facebook about whether or not I should chop all my hair off, it came up again the other night.
“I can’t believe you played the Toto card!” she said. To which I replied that I was going to blog about the Toto card. And so here we are.
My sister and I are 4 years and 5 months apart. It’s a tough age gap. Our experiences never really meshed, only slightly overlapping from time to time. When she was starting grade school, I was getting ready for middle school. When she was getting ready to start high school, I had already graduated. By the time I left home at nearly 18, she was only just entering her teens. At the same time, I was stumbling my way down the mean streets of NYC. I missed out on the whole teenage/young adult phase of her life, those all important years when her personality was shifting and shivering and shimmying into what it is today. I was so caught up in my own dramas, fully immersed in my own young adult life, I don’t really even remember her as a teenager.
I don’t feel like I ever played the Big Sister role, not in a conscious way; not in the way it is played out in books and movies or in our collective unconscious, a let me show you how to put on mascara or teach you a thing or two about boys way. As the older sister growing up, I tired quickly of the imitation is the highest form of flattery line, I just wanted her to stay the hell out of my room. I’m sure as the younger sister, she just wanted to be included. I have a one-sided view of our childhood, of course. It’s a different perspective depending on which branch of the family tree you land on. As a young teenager, I resented having to babysit her when my mother went to work, having to drag her along places with me. I’m sure she resented me for things too numerous to count. I blazed a slightly infamous path through high school–the Honor Society Goth–and I imagine it must have been a difficult act to follow. She annoyed me in the way only younger siblings can, I excluded her with the heartlessness that only older siblings can show. I graduated and left home, she grew up, we spent holidays together. I met my future husband, our father got ill, I had a son, our father died. Though our relationship had become closer when our experiences and age started to level out, I would say it was my father’s illness that was the turning point for me. The point at which I felt like we were friends and equals as well as flesh and blood.
Siblings are the people who know every twist and turn of your history; every bad haircut, every embarrassing story, every questionable fashion choice. Beyond DNA, siblings share a story, even if it does differ in perspective. My sister makes me laugh like no one else can. I’m not sure if it is the shared genes or a similar sense of humor or having survived growing up, if it is not having to see each other day in and day out, but when she is around, I laugh. I laugh until I have tears streaming down my face, until I have to bend over to catch my breath, until I have to eventually get up to pee. Sometimes the stuff isn’t even all that funny, but it’s like a runaway train–once you start, it’s hard to stop. My sister understands me differently than others simply because she was there, growing up with the same parents, in the same house, with the same kind of crazy. She gets my neurosis, because she’s got her own, different to mine, but born of a shared blood and experience. She shares the memories and the foundation of our very existence.
Most importantly, my sister believes I can do anything. Though I failed, kind of epically, at the Big Sister role, she still thinks of me that way. That I can do Big Sister things. Which is why in the end, I chopped off all my hair.
My own boys are three and a half years apart. When I watch the younger one wallop the older one as he walks past or listen to the older one tease the younger one just because he can, I wonder if they will ever be close. I wonder if they will ever sit and wet themselves over an internet joke or get together as adults and gasp over the things their father and I thought were ok to do when they were kids. As I separate them once again, scream at them to stop hitting one another, plead with them to respect each other, and yes, even try to convince my older son that imitation is the highest form of flattery, I take heart.
In their own way, my sons are shuffle ball changing their way across life’s stage, sharing a soundtrack, just as my sister and I did. I’m not sure yet what track their Rosanna will be, but I am sure they will have one.
Big sisters are the crab grass on the lawn of life is a quote by Charles M. Schulz
14 Comments Add yours
As a younger brother, it took decades to have a good relationship with my two older sisters.
Good thing I’m an adult for a lot longer than I was a kid.
(When one of my sisters and I get together, my wife likes to say that our collective age drops to 6.)
My control freak age is probably about 65, and my sister’s juvenile humor age is about 12, so when we are together, we balance each other out. I’m not going to do the math, but it all works out.
I’m reading this in a waiting room with tears in my eyes. Because everything you said about sisters is true. Treasure her.
I had two big sisters, 9 and 5 years older. I was close to both. And I lost both of them much, much too early (47 and 61) We had planned to race our wheelchairs in the nursing home. Winning by default will be no fun at all.
Oh, Elyse, I’m sorry. That is not fair, and they were much, much too young. Somewhere out in the universe they are watching out over you, taking bets on whether or not you’ll race your wheelchair any way. Now you’ve got me all teary!
I love this. I always tell my kids that siblings are the only relationship you have from birth till death. They are the only people that know your entire journey so embrace them. They are very close. I loved reading this. My sister is one of my best friends.
I will admit to having shouted at my kids something along the lines of “someday your father and I will be dead and you’ll only have each other!”. Not my best parenting moment, but the sentiment is true. They have a true love/hate relationship. I’m fascinated by it, in a Gorillas in the Mist kind of detached studious way, but when I am in the everyday thickness of it, it’s maddening!
If it makes you feel better, my sister and I are best friends and we fought like cats and dogs all the time.
We’ve all yelled stupid crap at our children at times. Though my best revenges is to make them stand toe to toe and noses touching for however long it takes them until they are laughing. It still works.
My sister and I are almost exactly the same distance apart (4 years and 6 months for us) and this is like reading about our own childhood. She was SO annoying, copying me all the time, and I was so mean to her. Since I went to college only about a half hour from where I grew up, though, we got close as she went through high school and now she is my honest-to-goodness best friend. I feel like if I ever have kids, at least I already have some practice mothering my baby sister!
It’s a tough age gap–too far to be playmates when you are young, too close to be that mothering/sibling kind of relationship. It took ages for my own kids to get to a point where they had some similar interests–which lasted all of a week before they started beating on each other!
Dina, I know I don’t comment often, but each time I read a post of yours I fall more in love with your blog. My brother and I have six years between us – he’s younger – but since he’s been a teenager, we’ve been extremely close. Even though we’re on two different continents. He knows me better than most people, and I miss hugging him and joking over a cigarette.
Nadia, thank you for the compliment. It made my day! Siblings are a funny thing, I remember the first time I heard pointed out that your sibling is usually the person you know the longest in your life, longer than your parents, your spouse, your children–it is a special relationship. Even when they do drive you nuts. My sister and I live on different continents now too, but in a way, it makes me appreciate the relationship more.