Sisters, Sisters

"There were never such devoted sisters!" My two girls sing this at the top of their lungs, twirling around and around. Over here, "White Christmas" is a movie that's as likely to be seen in July as in December. There's something about those Haynes sisters, with their blue feather fans and dyed-to-match shoes that is enchanting to my two daughters.

I always wanted a sister. Instead, I got two younger brothers. My parents reminded me that this would solidify my place in the family as the princess, but I always felt that, if I had had a sister, I would have had a built-in best friend.

Now, I have two daughters and I realize that I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to this sister stuff. I mean, my brothers and I would wrestle to settle things. I never had to share my clothes with them or compete for attention with extracurriculars. I danced and sang. They played soccer and baseball. They were into things that I had no desire to do (and vice versa). This sister thing is a different animal.

It helps that my two girls are as different as night and day, both in personality and in appearance. I joke that I've got one who's Ann Taylor and one who's Janis Joplin. (Full disclosure: I stole that line from a friend of my parents. Thanks, Jennifer!)

My Ann Taylor likes to be perfectly coordinated at all times. At five-years-old, she is the epitome of a "girly girl." Her world is rainbow sparkles, unicorns, and art in all forms. She regularly holds all of us captive to watch her new show, as she tries to balance on one foot in a not-quite-graceful-yet arabesque while she sings an original art song of her own creation. Her sister, on the other hand, is happiest running barefoot in the sunshine, her hair wildly blowing in the wind. She is fearless and defiant, a true warrior spirit. Our four-year-old Janis Joplin is as fierce in her battle to get the last strawberry on the plate as she is fierce in her love (as her full-body hugs prove). My husband says that they gave us random babies at the hospital.

Oh, there are certain things that cross over. They both love pink. And tap dancing. And they are going through a phase in which they want to dress identically. (Oh, be still my Southern heart! I'm definitely riding that train for as long as I can.) But they're getting to the point where the extracurriculars are starting to overlap and I can see competitive glances dart between the two of them. There's dance and gymnastics and karate. Soon, the younger one will also get to play the piano too.

So, I've been struggling with the question: what do I want my girls to know about being sisters? What does it mean to be a sister? And what does that mean in our world?

Ack. Okay. Hmm.

When I was in college, I remember hearing girls described as "sisterly" in late-night sorority recruitment sessions. It was always a compliment. It meant that the potential new member in question was kind, thoughtful of others, would look out for someone and protect them in the way that a sister would.

I want my sisters to be sisterly.

For one thing, I want them to know that sisters don't tear each other down. We celebrate each other. I have watched both of my girls get a bad case of Green-Eyed Monster Syndrome when one achieves something that the other hasn't. Jealousy is ugly. There's a reason why it's listed as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I would be lying if I said that I don't struggle with it myself.

Kids are a mirror, and seeing that ugliness reflected back at you changes the way you think about things. As much as I don't want that for myself, I really don't want it for my girls.

We talk a lot about being a team. When one member of your team does something great, it's good for everyone. Sometimes they listen to that. Sometimes they don't. I hope that if I keep repeating it, it will sink in, because, as much as I want them to be sisterly to each other, I want them to be sisterly to other women in the world. We have enough snark. We have enough judgment of others. We have enough hiding behind computers slinging insults at people we can't see. That's not sisterly. It's ugly. And we have enough of that.

Not only do I want them to celebrate other women, I want them to look out for them and protect them when they can. In a world when statistics say that one in four women will be assaulted, I want to raise women who are protecting each other. If your sister needs help, you help her. If your friend is too drunk at a party, you help her get home. If your friend needs help leaving a bad relationship, you help carry boxes. If you see or hear something that's not right, you call for help. I want my girls to know this. I need them to know that their presence is powerful. And I hope that other women would do the same for them.

Here's the thing: I don't know when it happened (probably a long, long time ago), but somewhere along the line, my friends and I started believing that we, as women, were disposable. I resigned myself to the knowledge that I would most likely get passed over for the second date because I wouldn't kiss on the first. That's how it seemed to work, especially in college. Here were these boys, surrounded by beautiful, smart women, who were so hopeful for love that they would willingly do more in a dorm room than they really wanted to do or throw their friend under the bus if it meant getting the date. My friend called me in a panic last week when she had gone through her eighth-grade daughter's phone and found that her kind, sweet, loving girl had badmouthed her best friend to a boy she thought was cute, in the hopes that he would pick her over her friend. It starts early, gang.

I want something more for my girls. I want them to know that they are enough, just as they are. They are powerful in their own unique ways, just as God made them. I don't know how to break the cycle, but I'm going to try. I celebrate their differences. I want them to know — no, I need them to know that they are not disposable and that their sister is the coolest girl on the planet, because they both are. And friends, I will do my best to also teach them that your daughter is the coolest girl they've ever met too, because I want to teach them to have her back. I hope she'll have theirs too, but if she doesn't, they'll be fine because, "in all kinds of weather, [they] stick together, the same in the rain or sun. Two different faces, but in tight places, [they] think and [they] act as one." Uh huh.

Happy International Women's Day.

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Allison Harvey