While I was searching the Internet looking for a sister gift for my LYLAS best friend Cyndie, I came across a blog article titled I Love You Like A Sister written by Elaine Koontz in which she exclaims, "No, you can’t love your best friend like a sister." She bases her statement on the assumption that a sister is a witness to the important milestones in your life and only a sister knows your thoughts and feeling about those milestones; that your sister knows who you are, was a witness to the events, as well as a member of the family, that made you who you are today. She goes on to explore the close and special relationship she has with her sister and ends describing her love for her sister as "specific and separate", "doesn't come easily" and a "life-long project".
While Ms. Koontz is entitled to her opinion, I have a different view. It begins with how families are created and girls come to have sisters. As children, we are invited here by our biological parents; we have little choice in the matter. We have absolutely no say in what kind of family we are born into, or adopted into as in Cyndie's case. Hopefully the parents have given some thought to the consequences of having children and are prepared. Perhaps Sarah Hrdy says it best, "A woman who is committed to being a mother will learn to love any baby, whether it's her own or not; a woman not committed to or prepared for being a mother may well not be prepared to love any baby, not even her own." (from Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection )
My situation is this: I am the oldest of four siblings, three of them girls. So that gives me two sisters. We were born to a woman (now deceased) who in her 50's started telling her friends at work that, if she had to do it all over again, she would NOT get married and she would NOT have children. However, I didn't have to wait for her shocked friends to whisper her revelation to me, because this was something that I understood from her behavior since I was very young and unable to put such things into words.
For as long as I can remember, my mother and I fought. The fights were rarely about getting stuff or getting my way. I fought to get my legitimate kid needs met and she responded negatively about having to be the parent to meet them. When my siblings got older, they were recruited into those fights, sometimes on "my team", sometimes on "Mom's team". The constant was the conflict between my mother and myself; me pushing her because I expected her to act like a good mother towards me and my siblings and her pushing back at me with all her anger, resentment and frustration about choosing to be a mother (4 times!) when she really didn't want to be one.
Crazy, huh? Me as a kid expected my mother to be a Mom. What was I thinking? Which just proves my point: children are invited here and have no control over the situation they are brought into. In my situation, I was fortunate that there were other adults who gave me love and attention and helped me feel good about myself. If I am forced to find a "silver lining", then I would have to say that all that fighting paid off and made me into the fighter and survivor I am today. That and I try very hard not to do anything that I don't want to do because I don't want to become someone who is angry and resentful about their choices.
So what did my sisters witness? Chaos. Did they always know my thoughts and feelings? Well, only when they were on "my team". Do my sisters know who I am? NO, NO, NO. Are we still a family? One of my sisters, for reasons she has never disclosed to me, stopped talking to me in 1990. The other has periodic connections to me which tend to end abruptly when I go from being a "good" to a "bad" sister in her eyes.
In looking up some definitions using the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, I found the following definitions of sister and sisterhood:
sister: girl or woman regarded as a comradesisterhood: the solidarity of women based on shared conditions, experiences, or concerns (14th century)
While both of the above definitions appear third in the list (the first are ones referencing biological connection and family), it is clear that the concepts of sister and sisterhood are not strictly confined to girls who are DNA related or have the same parents. More interesting is the fact that the definition of sisterhood, which applies to nuns in a convent and co-eds in a sorority, is a concept that has been in use since the 14th century. So apparently, my bright idea to formally recognized Cyndie as my sister is not so new or novel in the context of history!
My experience with my family is not unique, nor is it universal. Ms. Koontz seems to have been lucky to have been invited to join a family where sisterly relationships were able to be established, nourished and flourished into adulthood. For her, there is no need to seek sisterhood from another source since she already has it. In my case, I relish the gift that adulthood gives us all: freedom of choice. While we are powerless as children and at the mercy of the adults that surround us, being an adult means we get to choose, one decision at a time, how we are going to live our adult lives. While this power doesn't undo a childhood full of disappointment, struggle and hurt, it does give hope that my adult life can be better. It gives me the choice to recognize 25 years of sharing, understanding, listening, encouragement and caring by calling my friend Cyndie my sister.