My definitions of the word “sister,” after almost 20 years of being one and having one.
Age 3: That fat baby who lives across the hall! At this point you are unsure of the implications of sisterhood. But because “baby Ashley” gave you a present when she was born, you think you might keep her.
Age 7: Someone who stays at home and colors in your chapter books while you’re at school. When you get home you find “treats” that she’s made for you during her daily “cooking show” in the freezer – like her special concoction of ice cream, peanut butter, maraschino cherries, and graham crackers…. (“Aren’t you gonna eat it?”) She’s always game to play beanie babies or hide in laundry baskets with you. You think she’s a fun, strange little creature.
Age 10: Fellow mermaid, Jew-hiding-from-the-Nazis-in-the-woods, Tara Lipinski-imitator, and star lip-syncher. The sole living, breathing student in your classroom (minus Molly and Bitty Baby). A child with no organizational capabilities (you organize your closet on the weekends. She scatters the contents of her closet around the house… and she finds nothing wrong with this!!!) At this point, sister is simultaneously a curse word and a word you cannot escape.
Age 13: Your best friend and your worst enemy, at the same time. Someone who will tattle on you one minute and then perform bizarre dance moves in the living room to Barry Manilow’s “American Bandstand” the next. She’ll help you make baked Alaska and then refuse to do the dishes unless you offer her a reward. The goofiest member of the family. You can’t understand why she always wants to play dolphins in the pool when all you want to do is just TAN and READ YOUR BOOK, for goodness’ sake!
Age 16: A teenager related to you somehow, although you can’t remember exactly how or why… you sometimes wonder if “sister” is just a disguise for “child we rescued from the last time aliens invaded.” She borrows your clothes and talks sassy to you. Excuse me, but WHO’S older here? You fight over the piano and over cleaning the bathroom, and you both are too stubborn to ever say sorry first. In your best moments, the sister is a compadre in crime, a companion in fun, and a compatriot who will listen, love, and make you laugh when you’re crying. And maybe sort of a… friend?
Age 19: The world has turned upside down, and sister lives 12 hours away… life is so different, so quiet, so… organized. She’s always been there for you. You get text messages from “Ashley-cell”… weird, sister has a mobile device of her own! Sister drives, cooks, plans high school events, dates, and calls you just to “chat.” When you’re home, you go grocery shopping together, talk about God and theology and boys, paint each other’s nails.
Of all the peer relationships in your life that you love, your sister has been the most permanent – and at some point there was a conscious decision on both your parts to keep it that way. At some point you decided you actually liked each other. You resembled each other (except she looks like Taylor Swift and you don’t… but you apparently look like twins… um, okay?). You’ve seen echoes of her in your college friends – the loyalty, the humor, the way they are like lightning bugs in an otherwise dark night. You have sisters like her from all over the Midwest, you live with girls who have become college sisters of sorts, friends-that-are-more-than-friends, beauties.
Sister is, you’ve realized, not just a family member. Sister is a synonym for best friend. And you have the best of them all.