I think I realized I had a pretty cool sister when she gave me what is probably the best birthday gift ever:
A 2-liter bottle of Crystal Pepsi and a Steve Urkel puzzle.
I think I was turning 14, and I recall her handing me these gifts early in the morning. I believe she wrapped them together in the dust rag my mother kept on the vacuum.
Soda AND a puzzle? What did I do to deserve this?
About 80% of people in the US have a sibling, and those relationships can vary dramatically. Some siblings are so close in age that they grew up fighting constantly over everything, including friends. Some are so far apart in age that they are basically strangers to each other. Some have nothing in common, so while they are civil, they don’t, like, chat on the phone every week or two. I am four years younger than my sister, which means that I was just young enough to be annoying, but not so young that she had to, like, help raise me. I had my own friends, but I’m certain that if she had a friend over and I didn’t, I was probably bugging them.
It’s National Sibling Day on April 10th, and while having such a great sibling is something I’m sure I’ve repeatedly taken for granted, I know that having a sister — and having this sister, specifically — has improved my life in ways I’m continuing to discover.
My sister and I mostly got along when growing up, though there is evidence of the occasional fight. The biggest reminder is the broken bathroom doorknob at the vacation condo my parents own. We grew up super lucky, spending basically the whole of August at the lake, with friends visiting. We’d go to the beach or the pool most days, then spend what seemed like hours at the local video store picking out a movie to watch with the sitter who would come while my parents went out (that’s right, kiddos, we are old enough to remember VHS). My sister’s room had a door that led directly to our shared bathroom; I needed to enter from the hallway. One particularly nasty fight, I kept pushing to get in, she kept pushing me out, and boom. Doorknob broken. Whoops.
But those types of incidents were definitely not the norm, and that four year age difference proved to be kind of perfect, as we were never sharing friends or competing for the same … anything, really. My parents did everything to make sure we both felt treated equally. We both did sports, we both participated in the arts, and we even had the exact same value for our gifts at Christmas (my mom was adamant on that one – she didn’t want us to perceive any favoritism).
One area that could have been fraught is the fact that she is very tall and very thin; I am very tall and at times have been very much … less thin. That could have been a serious challenge growing up – I’ve heard of larger siblings being tormented by their thinner siblings. My sister has never said such a thing to me. She’s never looked at me eating dessert, or having other sweets and said ‘hey, maybe put that down.’ She’s listened when I’ve complained about gaining weight, but she’s never made me feel like I am more or less worthy of anything based on the number on the scale.
Her leaving for college just as I started high school was a bummer in some ways, but perfect in others, as during my brattiest years, I was essentially an only child, and didn’t take it out on her. As I got older, I could go visit her at her university – I remember one weekend where we went to see L.A. Story and halfway through she asked if there was more than one white guy in the movie. There were three, actually, but in fairness, they were pretty much visually interchangeable. Ugh, that was a boring movie.
When I got to university, she was living in LA, and then took a year-long trip to Australia. That was the hardest, because international texting wasn’t a thing then (shoot, I don’t even know if domestic texting was a thing). We had email, but it’s not like she kept a laptop with her, or had free wifi or a smart phone. I’d hope to get a call from her on a prepaid calling card on occasion, but it sucked, her being so far away without an easy way to communicate.
Since then, however, and until the pandemic, that was about the longest we went without seeing each other. I visited her when she was living in Los Angeles, and then made multiple trips when she was in Texas and then Florida. I’d often try to visit over my birthday, as it was usually close to a three-day weekend. One visit we had what I still consider to be the best restaurant dinner I’ve ever had (the perfect pork chop with this ridiculous potato dish), followed by a Jason Mraz concert. My sister is thoughtful like that — years earlier, when my family visited her in D.C., she figured out it coincided with No Doubt performing not that far out of town, so she got us tickets. There was a lightning storm, they had us all crowd in the actual seating area under cover (we had lawn tickets), and then we just … never left the fancy area. Best concert.
She’s visited me in every apartment I’ve ever lived in (except two – one because we only lived there for five months and one because PANDEMIC), and I’ve visited her. We got cupcakes together at Magnolia bakery when she visited me in NYC. We rode the Staten Island Ferry and went to the strangest museum with a lot of stuffed birds.
I’ve stayed with her a few times in Boston, and she’s always made it such a great time – last time we went to tea at the public library, and it was just delightful.
We’ve also traveled together as adults, once to Berlin, and another time to Iceland with our partners. Both times were fun in different ways. For Berlin I think I did most of the planning, and also ended up with a wicked cold for most of the trip (but I powered through!).
She did basically 100% of the Iceland planning, and it was so much fun. I knew next to nothing, so it was nice to just sort of sit back and have someone else in charge, especially someone who would know what I would and would not be interested in doing.
Traveling together is fun, but we can also just sit and hang out and talk. We once spent like two hours watching YouTube videos of 80s and 90s TV theme songs, dying with laughter while my partner looked on, eventually retreating to another room because while our laughter is infectious to each other, it’s not necessarily contagious to others. I’m sure that’s annoying, as is our ability to beat literally anyone at Taboo.
As we get older, and our parents get older, our relationship has shifted a bit, because we have to think and talk more about unpleasant things. We’re lucky in that our parents are both still healthy (and fully vaccinated now, woo hoo!), but they live in the house we grew up in, and are getting older, so we know that things won’t stay the same forever. And while our parents are seriously really good parents, we all have things that bother us, right? I have a very understanding partner, but he didn’t grow up in my house, so he can’t fully know exactly what I mean when I speak about my folks. But my sister gets it completely.
Texting and WhatsApp calls have made living overseas a lot easier, in part because I can still dash a quick text off to my sister regardless of the time of day, and know I’ll hear back from her when she has free time. It’s also allowed me to do things like give her a video tour of our new apartment, and properly sing happy birthday.
Those of you who don’t have siblings have I’m sure had wonderful life experiences that I’ll never have — having the full attention of one’s parents, not having any internalized competition with another kid in your house, not having hand-me-downs — and many probably love being an only child. I think that’s great! But I’ve only ever known a life with a sibling, and I feel so lucky.
So this National Siblings Day, if you have as great a sibling as I do, be sure to let them know.