TO HAVE A SISTER
In Honor of National Sister's Day, August 1st
"At the wedding, Mushky wept like a baby and danced like a nut."
My relationship with my sister got off to a bad start. As an only girl with five brothers, I had spent months awaiting my mother’s birth, praying for a sister. It was the first pregnancy that I had been cognitive enough to realize my mother was expecting and, let’s just say, my hopes and dreams were no secret. Perhaps if I had a sister, I would have more solid defense when my brothers wanted to wreak havoc on my dolls and it would certainly mean one more female to reckon with when playtime debates were whether to wrestle or play basketball. Never mind the fact that I deeply felt I could use a companion to share the brunt of my mother subjecting me to an overabundance of pink and bows (which totally backfired, by the way).
I had my heart set on my mother’s labor rewarding me with a sister, so I took it as a personal gift when my father called the house to announce that “Mommy had a girl!” We were all jubilant, but I knew the wonderful result was only because of my hard prayers – who were my brothers to be so happy? I was jumping until my mother brought my sister home. But, like I said, things didn’t get off to a good start – the perfect dream was short-lived. Get this. My parents had decided to name my sister, of all things, “Chaya Mushka.”
I actually cried when my parents told me this. This is what I got after months of fantasizing about cute, girly names for my sister? In my five-year-old brain, the name was only meant to follow the word “Rebbetzin” – and the fact that Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka had a personal relevance in our lives didn’t make it better. My parents had given my new and only sister an old-sounding name, not to mention with a “ch” in it! And, my goodness, there were too many ways to make fun of the “Mushky” part.
But Mushky it was. And, alas, I got over it - and with it, my high-expectations of what it would be like to finally have a sister. It’s not like I could really be comrades with this little blob that was five full years younger than me. I still had to play with my brothers, defending my dolls and watching them play Cops and Robbers. I felt silly for having built up what it would be like to have a sister.
When Mushky finally became old enough to really bond with, I was just starting to assert my independence. Let me tell you, asserting your independence is very hard to do when you share a room with your only sister. I should have just given up. But for years, I refused to abandon my resentment, and, to say the least, I made the imaginary line that separated our sides very obvious.
Later, when Mushky was transitioning from a child to a little woman, the shared space was even harder. Mostly because I found her utterly perfect. Sure, I was the prized first girl after four boys, but, well, let’s just say my mother really got it right the second girl around. Mushky was super-feminine and fashionable. She had the perfect physique and clothing always fit her amazing. While I gallivanted around in what my mother called “artsy fartsy” attire (“It’s called vintage, Ma!”), Mushky’s trendy wardrobe secretly drew all my jealousy. But beyond the mere surface, Mushky was also incredibly talented, extremely gifted in school, wonderfully balanced in beauty and spirit and, well, let’s just say her side of the room was always more clean and organized.
To my fault, most of our formative years were spent preventing a connection that should have been. Sure, there were times when I let go of my older-sister ego and let Mushky into my life for some treasured sisterly memories, but I never truly created the space for what would become the most critical relationship in my life.
Everything changed when I got my own room. They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder, but I believe the move coincided with a deeper maturity on my part. Finally, Mushky and I started to live the dream that I had imagined years earlier when she was nestled in my mother’s womb. It was like a light had switched on. Suddenly, we were best friends – laughing hysterically, sharing our deepest secrets, admitting our insecurities and fears and finishing each others’ sentences. During this transitional phase, we were so aware of the closeness we had tapped into that we openly reminisced about the room-sharing days. Mushky made fun of the kind of sister I had been, and all I could do was apologize. But we didn’t really care anymore. We were sisters now. In a true turn of events, I was now incessantly begging Mushky to let me sleep in her room.
Not only did Mushky become a best-friend, but she began to fit the role of the older sister I never had. Mushky was right by my side when I was searching for my soul mate. When I met my husband, she was the most present ear and delighted with me on every detail of my dates. At the wedding, she wept like a baby and danced like a nut. When I found out I was pregnant, I told her right away and she cried the most joyous tears. She was right there when I gave birth, physically and emotionally supporting me with mountains of love. For an entire month after, she diapered, bathed, rocked and burped my son, all the while providing the most essential care, company and humor. With the kind of aunt she has been for the past year, I’m almost convinced it’s possible for another person to love my child as much as my husband and I do.
We all need friends. No one can take the place of your mother. And a husband brings a unique completeness. But as one of my favorite authors Tony Morrison says, “A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves - a special kind of double.” In my sister, I have found myself. But I have also found a unique woman whom I am lucky to have as a role model. Because I have Mushky, I live life with the confidence that someone else knows and accepts every facet of my being, genuinely feels my pains and joys and, all in all, just totally gets me. Sure, our early years were rocky. But, G-d knows we’ve been making up for lost time (and there she is now, popping up on my video chat!).
Me and Mushky are so conscious of how wonderfully blessed we are to have a deep relationship that keeps getting richer through the journeys of time. Any woman who is close with her sister(s) knows how essential this relationship is to her survival. Still, whether it’s a line in your room or some other imaginary concoction, there are a lot of things that can keep sisters apart, deep down yearning for each other’s love. If you have a sister, do whatever it takes to treasure and nurture the essential bond. Now and forever, your entire life will thank you.