The Best Big Sister Ever

is 30 years old today. And in lieu of a gift or a grand gesture, I present this.

I have the best big sister in the world. She is two years and one week my senior, and I don't know what I would have done all of these years without her. I certainly have never done anything in my life to deserve a sister like this.

For example, she came to visit me the weekend before last. I was exhausted and stressed out about work and impending house move and my still somewhat cranky foot. And yet, I wanted to make a Shabbat meal for her, my grandmother, and some friends. A small meal quickly became a ten person meal. And what did she do? She came to town for the weekend--for vacation!--and bought all of my groceries for me, helped me cook, swept the kitchen floor, and did all of the dishes for me after Shabbat, because I was too tired. And she didn't complain at all. Not once! This is so something that I would never be able to pull off.

It's a bit astounding that we come from the same exact gene pool. I don't know how she stays so cool, calm, and collected and never whines, not even once. She's so patient. (She was the one who played the flute for years, while I only gave my musical instrument one year. It didn't hurt that she had prodigious musical talent.) I also don't know how she is as giving as she is. She's taken on all sorts of volunteer leadership roles in her community and hosted countless guests at lovely Shabbat meals without breaking a sweat. People often assume that I am a first child, but she is way more first child than I am. If you think I have typical first child characteristics, you should see her! I got mad and accused her of being perfect, actually, when she visited. Mad that she was being so nice to me! As I said, I don't know that I've ever done enough to deserve having her as a sister.

We started out as all siblings do--playing together, fighting, devising secret languages to exclude our younger brother. I used to accuse her of poaching my friends (although I believe I used the word "stealing" at the time), because when friends came over to play with me, she would join in and I was sure that they liked her more than they liked me. And who wouldn't? She was older and therefore cooler. She got to do everything before me, which I hated when we were little but came to appreciate mightily when the SATs and college admissions rolled around. Vignettes from our childhood:
  • I am about three; she is about five. She gets a tetanus shot and she cries in bed at night. I live in dread of getting a tetanus shot for the next two years until it's my turn.
  • We play house. I don't remember if one of us is usually the father and the other is the mother or if we take turns (although I do know that those are the two parental roles given out), but our younger brother is always the baby. We sometimes put him in a pink bathrobe, so that he will be a girl baby.
  • We make my father flip a quarter to see who has to take a bath first.
  • We fight over a cable-knit navy blue sweater. We each hold onto one side of the sweater and pull--with our teeth. One of my teeth, which is wiggly, flies out of my mouth, never to be seen again. Crestfallen, I accuse her of preventing me from receiving my customary gift from the Tooth Fairy. All is saved--the Tooth Fairy delivers even without a tooth left under the pillow. (My father explained it all to her, he said.)
  • A year or two later, I chase her around the house. She falls and breaks a toe. I feel bad.
  • Our desks are near each other in the finished basement. We share a dictionary, passing it back and forth across the large collapsed refrigerator box that separates our territories.
  • She always has the teachers two years before I do, and they always call me by her first name until they learn mine. Sometimes this takes months. They look at me and they see her. On a more positive note, I get the scoop about each teacher's strengths and foibles before some first-child classmates. Even better, in later years I get her chemistry notes before taking chemistry with the same teacher.
  • I wait with great anticipation for her to grow out of a purple corduroy jumper so that I can have it.
  • Starting sometime in elementary school, she hates it when we dress the same way to school. I purposely wait until she gets dressed and then I pick my clothes to approximately match for the express purpose of annoying her and forcing her to change her clothing. (She still hates it when we show up to family events wearing similar outfits.)
  • We devise a secret language as well as a secret password for entering our shared bedroom. I think that the password may have been "parrot." I don't remember much about the language. I think it either had no rules or was a very complicated variation of pig Latin, such that I had a notebook with lists of words and would have to consult said notebook in order to use the language. It wasn't very practical for communicating.
  • On a much more practical level, we rig up a device between her bed and mine in our shared bunk bed. We aren't allowed to talk after a certain time at night, so we attach a change purse to a piece of elastic string and each keep pencils and paper in our beds. We pass messages back and forth. I knock on the wall when I want to pass a message to her and she pulls the change purse up. When she wants to pass a message to me, she drops the change purse. The only downside to this system is that it is very difficult to read these notes in the dark, and the time past which we are not allowed to talk is also the time past which we are not allowed to turn on our reading lamps. Drat.
  • She is a ballerina. She has the best costumes for her ballet recitals ever. I am very clumsy and drop out of pre-ballet.

When we got a little bit older, she got more involved in school and decided that she was too old to be involved in certain activities that still thrilled me. Thus, for a few years, I spent more time playing with my brother, doing things that were too juvenile or disgusting for her, like digging up worms in the backyard to make terrariums and mixing up crushed berries from the bush in the front yard to make magic potions. There was a cousins' show at Thanksgiving, but she decided she was too old to participate, so I was stuck bossing around the younger sibs and cousins. (Oh, how I enjoyed that!)

The really great stuff started again around SAT/applying to college stuff, when my parents got trained on her and it was much easier for me. I remember the day she got into college. It was very exciting. I even stopped writing a paper for school to celebrate a little bit.

When she went away to college, her coolness factor sky-rocketed. I spent a few weekends with her, eating in the dining hall and experiencing how great it was to move away from home. (No offense, parents!) I spent Simchat Torah with her on campus and got to hold a sefer Torah for the first time in my life.

Then, when I left home, I got to call and ask her questions, mostly about cooking, but sometimes about laundry or plane tickets. She also knows about things like ironing, which I never really learned how to do. (In a further testimony to her greatness, she has actually ironed shirts for me. I don't remember the occasion, but I do remember thinking that that was never something I would do for someone else except possibly under duress or if I owed them big time.) I spent a year in Israel before college, which coincided with her junior year abroad. We spent a lot of Shabbatot together with relatives that neither one of us knew, as well as with friends that both of us collected along the way.

It's simply gotten better and better from there. We've met and befriended each other's friends. She's finally gotten to experience someone looking at her and seeing me. We live in different cities and have separate identities now, but everyone who meets us knows immediately that we're sisters. (They also always ask who is older. Always. Sometimes I get confused and reply that I am older. Tee hee!)

All of that is sort of par for the course, though. This is why she's the world's best big sister: I call her with cooking questions. I never know how much chicken or fish I need to buy per dinner guest. She always knows. I introduced her to the exquisite goodness that is kale or Swiss chard sauteed with tofu, onions, and portabella mushrooms. I am apparently incapable of following written recipes and prefer to make up recipes from scratch, sometimes resulting in minor disasters. She follows recipes to a T, resulting in always delicious food and a much calmer cooking experience. She's the only one who I can really trust to tell me that something is too large on me, or too small, or too rumpled or shlumpy. She'll support me when someone else is being an ass, yet not hesitate to tell me when I am being one. We can almost share shoes, such that we try on each other's shoes but they never quite fit. (My feet are longer; hers are wider.) She pretends not to mind when I call her too late at night. I pretend not to mind when she calls me too early in the morning. We talk taxes, Roth IRAs, and salary negotiation, and edit each others' resumes. We pass along important and unimportant news about family members, each of us sure that we're always the last to hear anything. We talk men and dating and have a good laugh when we both get set up the same person. We can't happily travel together (we've tried--I think getting slightly lost in a strange city is fun and she does not), but I would be lost without her. She's always had my back and I hope she knows that I always have hers--even though I may never do her dishes or iron her shirts.

I love you!


alg's mother said...

When you were in the nursery class and your sister was in kindergarten at the same school, teachers remarked at how well you two got along and how you helped one another. Even at that early stage of life, your complimentary personalities and strengths were remarkable. From personal experience I, too, know what a blessing it is to have a wonderful sister. How often are brothers so close? It may be a girl thing.

David said...

That's a really lovely tribute. There are lots of folks in my neck of the woods who are big fans of your sister as well, and certainly agree with your assessment.

I was mostly raised as an only child (but I have a variety of step and half-siblings), so I don't have firsthand experience of the kind of bond you're describing. It sounds wonderful.

Chaya said...

this entry has gone deep.you are indeed a woman of words and they flow like water from your keys.
its a very emotional read.your sister is mirrored so wonderfully through your words.I can feel the deep bond you share.
I have a sister who is 2 years and 10 months younger than me.I also have memories albeit, some fragmented, of our growing up together.and I laughed at memories you shared as I have experienced them too.I also misted up whilst I read because it emphasized to me that the bond that is formed in childhood can become very fragile with age because its tenacity is tested by the ravages of diversity and irreconcilable differences both personality-wise and religion-wise, that become more acute and significant with age.
cherish what you have and kol hakavod for putting what you feel down in blogger posterity.

Michele said...

What a lovely post. And fun to read.

Dave (Balashon) said...

The truth is, until recently, I thought you were the older sister...