I’ve longed for a sister my entire life. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my brother. He’s kind, intelligent, and charismatic. Still, we fought like animals until he left for college. We are just very different people. People who love and respect one another, but not exactly the sort to hang out together on a Tuesday night.
I suppose many sisters have the same type of relationship. Still, I envied them. I imagined having an older sister who protected me like a lioness, yet told me the brutal truth when needed. My biggest advocate. My memory keeper. My best friend.
Throughout my life, I have befriended other sister-less women, all searching for the relationship that nature never gave them. And the truth is, not having a biological sister led me to nurture many deep, lasting friendships.
Instead of one biological sibling, I have gathered women around me in a sisterhood of choice. These relationships have withstood the strain of time and distance, spanning decades and crossing oceans (literally). They are the family I chose.
My children call these women “Aunt”. They are at baby showers and birthdays. A few have been puked on by my kids, some on multiple occasions. They are more than friends. Not enough is said to celebrate these ties, which I suppose is only fitting. We are family by action, not name.
Still, when I found out I was having a second girl, I was filled with excitement. Sisters. Finally!
I was unprepared for B’s reaction to meeting E. I expected her to be nervous at the hospital and timid, which she was. She clasped her grandmother’s hand tightly as she walked toward the basinet. But the moment she laid eyes on her tiny sister, the look on B’s face knocked the air from my lungs.
I’ve never before or since witnessed a connection so powerful and instantaneous. The love was there. The bond was there.
It was one of those moment that I know I will hold close, and I’m so grateful saw it. I wasn’t asleep or fumbling with the camera or staring down at something. I saw it, and I was amazed.
Mothering two girls sometimes feels foreign to me. I imagine it’s similar to how mothers who were raised as only children react to breaking up a sibling squabble. It’s untested ground.
My girls fight in ways so unfamiliar, for reasons my brother and I never considered contesting. I can honestly say in thirty-five years, I have never uttered any of the following:
“Mom, who’s prettier?”
“Those sparkle shoes are mine. You can’t wear them.”
“She’s my friend. Not yours.”
Sometimes I push the sisterly bond too hard. E touched my face once and said, Mommy, you’re my best friend.”
“I love you too,” I said. “But isn’t Sissy your best friend? She’s your sister.”
Sometimes, when B is unkind to E, I remind her how lucky she is to have a sister. I tell her how much I always wanted one and that the relationship she has with E is precious. (I know, the kid is just miffed that her little sister broke the crayons. Sometimes, I just can’t help myself.)
When B started to learn the biological definitions of aunt, uncle and cousin, I explained to her that no one in the world is more related to her than E. And for the briefest moment, I saw the exact same look on her face that I witnessed in the hospital room years ago.
This time, I felt something so strange and unfamiliar: Envy. I was envious of my own children, of the sisters I created.
Then B asked me how I was related to one of my friends she calls “Aunt.”
“I’m not,” I said.
“But why do we call her Aunt?”
“Because,” I told her, smiling, “She is the sister I chose.”
I don’t know if B and E will be close their entire lives. They too may fight like animals until they take their separate steps into the adult world and leave the forced ties of their adolescence behind.
I guess in many ways, our definition of family always involves choice. We choose to bring people closer who are not part of the “typical” definition of family. We choose to distance ourselves from others who are. And sometimes, we are lucky enough to never need to decide. Sometimes, we are born with the family we would have chosen on our own.
When I catch myself feeling envious of my girls, I’m reminded that while they were given each other, I was given them. They will always be the best of the family I chose. Because having them, with the person I chose to be the father of my children, was a choice. And it was the best choice I ever made.