Saturday, September 11, 2010


Me (left) & my younger sister -- a recently restored studio portrait, taken in about 1963.

A couple of posts back, I got this anonymous comment:
"There's something I've been meaning to ask you. You mentioned that your sister is childless/free by choice. What are your feelings about it?"
This was a somewhat timely question, because today is my sister's birthday. I just got off the phone with her awhile ago.

I didn't wish her a happy birthday, though. Since her 39th birthday on September 11th, 2001, she told everyone she was done with birthdays. It's got to be rough sharing what's supposed to be your special day with one of the most tragic days in history, certainly in our lifetimes. However, I told her nice try, but she wasn't escaping 40 THAT easily. ; ) She may not appreciate "Happy birthday," but she will respond to "Happy Saturday," so that's what I wished her, & that's what she wishes me when she calls me on my birthday.

My sister & I don't have a sappy greeting card kind of relationship -- you know what I mean. We rarely hug (& when we do, it's usually at the airport, with me doing the hugging). We don't gush on about being each other's best friends, or anything like that. (Although, when we were little, we WERE each other's best friends -- by necessity, if not by choice. We lived in five different towns before we graduated from high school. It usually took awhile until we found new friends -- if we wanted companionship, there was only each other. Even in high school, we were involved in many of the same activities & had many of the same friends.)

But -- we're sisters. I remember reading an article that noted that the sibling relationship is probably the longest one you will ever have in your life. When our parents are gone, there will only be my sister & me left to remember the unique experience of what it was like growing up in our family with our mom & dad.

My sister & I are 21 months apart, and when we were growing up, we looked sufficiently alike (and often dressed alike) that people often asked whether we were twins. Our schoomates called us "the Bobbsey Twins," although there was no way you could confuse us once you knew us -- our personalities were (& are) so different. I was the classic older child -- responsible, serious, eager to please, a bit of a Miss Goody Two Shoes (I'll admit it). My sister was (& still is) a bit of a rebel -- somewhat antisocial, contrarian, sarcastic & often hilarious. (Dh -- also an older child -- & I have noted that our younger sibilings can say & do things that we would get sseverely reprimanded for -- but when THEY did/do it, everyone thinks they are hilarious & cute. Anyone else notice this? And why is that??) She was a pretty good kid overall (the other nickname for us and our friends at school was "The Milk & Cookies Gang")(!!) -- we both were -- but she was more of a rebel than I was.

Being "twins" may have been cute when we were little, but as we grew older, we chafed at the comparisons. When we were little, we often INSISTED on dressing alike -- couldn't have your sister having something that you didn't have!! ; ) When we got older, though, we would both show up at the breaksfast table wearing the same outfit & a loud argument would ensue ("I had mine on FIRST!!") My sister inevitably had the same teachers as I did, one year later, & inevitably got compared to me (usually not quite as favourably). On the other hand, she was more popular with the boys than I was, & had two or three "boyfriends" before I ever got asked out on a date. (Inevitably, it was a double date with my sister, who was going out with his best friend.)

I loved going to university, and I think part of it was the freedom of being my own person -- I was no longer part of a package deal. I think my sister felt the same way once I left home. It took me awhile to invite my sister to come visit me in my dorm. University was MY turf.

When it was time for my sister to join me, one year later, my parents suggested we get an apartment together to save money; we both promptly nixxed that idea, & my sister chose a dorm that was on the other side of campus from mine. I did show her around a little the first week or so of school (nobody had done that for me...), but after that, we saw very little of each other on campus. She had her friends & her life in her dorm; I had mine. Occasionally, we'd be accosted by classmates or people we knew from our dorms, saying, "I saw you in the quad yesterday, why didn't you say hi??" I hadn't been anywhere near the quad that day, & would realize they had seen my sister.

My sister now lives in the city about an hour from the small town where our parents now live. She has said -- only half joking, I think! -- that she is going to move to Africa to raise baby elephants. Therefore, *I* will be the "closest" daughter, & our aging parents will become MY responsibility. (Gee, thanks.)

And yet, when push comes to shove -- she is there. She was the one tasked by my parents with driving to the nursing home where my grandparents were living to tell them their great-granddaughter was stillborn -- something that still makes me want to cry when I think about it. I am pretty organized, but she is briskly efficient (she did most of the organizing work for our parents' recent 50th anniversary party -- I MC'd the event & gave the big speech, which suited her just fine). Her Christmas gifts to me are always well chosen (& she does most of the gift shopping for our parents, so I don't have to lug a whole pile of gifts in my luggage -- all I have to do is write her a cheque). We don't talk on the phone often -- maybe once every month or two -- but we e-mail, especially around holidays. Both phone calls & e-mails frequently leave me wanting to roll on the floor with laughter. Even when we were growing up, I wanted to be a writer -- but it was my sister who came up with the wildest plotlines and funniest dialogue for my stories.

Whenever I think analytically about our relationship, I remember another pair of sisters we both knew well. My grandmother & her older sister (my great-aunt) had a troubled relationship. They lived in the same small town their entire lives, and yet they would go for years at a stretch without speaking to each other. They had sort of made up by the time my great-aunt went into the local nursing home in her late 80s, but my grandmother either wouldn't or couldn't go see her in her final days. Their on-again-off-again feud made life very difficult & uncomfortable for the rest of us. (To their eternal credit, they never extended their feud beyond their immediate selves. I never experienced anything less than love and a warm welcome from my great-aunt, who always had a carton of chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer to share when we went to visit her -- and my grandmother always had hugs, smiles & cookies for my great-aunt's two children and six grandchildren.)

I think their example stood as a cautionary tale for my sister & me: no matter what disagreements or complaints we had or have with each other, we know there are some things that are better left unsaid & some lines that shouldn't be crossed. "Remember Grandma & Aunty E.," my internal voice will whisper to me, and I will bite my tongue & let the moment pass. It ain't Hallmark -- but for us, it works.

To address Anonymous's specific point:

Yes, my sister is childfree by choice (CFBC). I always knew it was very unlikely she would have children. As I've alluded above, my sister is not the warm, fuzzy type. She said once that she resolved not to have children after a regular teenaged babysitting gig with a couple of particularly difficult to handle toddlers.

As I told Anonymous, much as I would have loved to have a niece or nephew to spoil -- & sad (& guilty) as I feel that my parents have no grandchildren (dh & I being their sole hope) -- I am perfectly fine with my sister being CFBC. I respect her, & other CFBC people, for knowing themselves so well & for sticking to their guns & going very much against the tide in our pronatalist world. I would much, much rather that people be like my sister than just have kids because that's what's expected of you or because you were wavering & someone talked you into it -- & then live to regret it.

My sister doesn't hate kids, but she's not wild about them either. She tolerates them. Funnily enough, kids adore her. I think she would have been a fabulous aunt. : ) Maybe not the kind of aunt that gushes over how cute her niece or nephew is & smothers them in kisses, but definitely the kind of aunt who will buy you cool presents & let you get away with things that Mom & Dad won't, and will sneak you into a bar when you're not quite of age & buy you a drink.

When I found out I was pregnant, I phoned her (after I phoned my parents) & asked her how she'd like to be called "Aunty," & she started giggling. When I found out I was having a girl, she chanted, "Pink! Pink!! Pink!!!" triumphantly over the phone. She called me that awful night of August 5, 1998, and all she could do was sniffle. Instead of flowers, she sent me a new book by one of our mutual favourite authors along with my parents. It was more "her," & I think she thought I'd like that better anyway. I did.

Happy Saturday, Sis.


  1. What a beautiful post about a complex and loving relationship. Happy Saturday to your sis!

  2. This is an interesting story!

    I happened upon your blog accidentally, but now can't wait to read more!

  3. ah, beautiful post. i had a tear at the end.

  4. I just learned about your blog (thanks to and as a fellow canadian from your area, I am quite enjoying it. Although.. I have to admit this entry made me cry. I am not complaining - I have one child, lucky to have him after a sad loss. I am not going to have any more, for 1000 reasons. But it still hurts to accept that reality. I don't know if I ever will... so your blog helps, in a round about way. Thank you.