In 2004, our first daughter was born. We hadn’t found out the gender. I had been sure she was a boy. She arrived in the middle of the night, and my mother and sister ran out to a 24-hour Walmart to buy her something pink. When I became pregnant again, I was surprised at the overwhelming longing I had for another girl. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a boy, or that I was particularly attached to already having one girl–Sera wasn’t (and isn’t) even that girly. It was the idea of sisters. I was elated when we found out–all three of us together in the ultrasound room–that Amelie was indeed, a girl. Sera proudly made the call to family and friends announcing her new “sis-oh.”
Sera was two years old, and with Amelie growing steadily in my belly, I read anything I could get my hands on about sibling rivalry. With a 2.5 year age difference, we were prepared for the outbursts, tears, and jealousy that often comes with bringing a new baby home. When the time came, there was actually no “bringing” Amelie home because she was already there–born in the dining room with Sera watching. Sera splashed the water, held my arm during contractions, and when it was time to cut the cord, she yelled, “I’ll go get my scissors!” We laughed and told her we had special scissors. Together, she and Josh loosed her baby sister into the world.
I waited for the tantrums and the expressions of displacement I had anticipated. But none came. Sera cherished her baby sister. She played with her, brought me diapers, and once…after I had heard a piercing cry and then nothing at all coming from my back bedroom, I found them. Amelie peaceful on my bed, and two-and-a-half year old Sera looking up at me: “She rolled off your bed. So I picked her up and put her back on.” The first time Amelie had ever fallen, Sera had been there. Her protective, chubby, toddler arms ready to save her baby sister.
Over the next few years they remained sidekicks. Through moves across the country and making new friends in a new state, they formed their own little unit. Sure, they had tantrums and disagreements, but overall they were friends. They were close.
When Sera started 1st grade, a noticeable shift occurred. She was more tired at the end of the day and needed extra space away from all of us once she got home. Amelie became clingy during the day. The friend she shared all of her hours with was suddenly gone. I was sad for her, but I reminded myself that this was a normal part of life. Or at least a normal part of our culture.
When Amelie started Kindergarten, the gap widened even more. No longer did they share the same set of multiage children. Sera had her own friends from her own class, and Amelie had hers. The age gap between them seemed to grow, and their interests were vastly different. They were both exhausted and distraught when they got home from school each day. They had no energy to build, or even to maintain their own relationship. Their days were spent apart. Their nights were spent fighting.
I did not grow up with siblings close to my own age, so this was (is) completely foreign territory for me. I heard the same reassurance from every adult set of sisters I know, “We’re best friends now, but we hated each other when we were little!”
But my girls hadn’t always “hated” each other. They hadn’t even always fought like this. Once when Amelie snuck out of the back door as a toddler and accidentally wound up in our car, Sera became hysterical thinking Amelie had wandered into the busy street. She was particularly upset because she was the one who had left the door unlocked. She wept when we found Amelie safe (she had only been missing about 5 minutes) and wouldn’t let go of her.
It seemed unbelievable to me that these sweet girls would naturally abandon their bond and spend the next 10-15 years “hating” each other. Nevertheless, this is what I perceived to be normal behavior among sisters. But did it have to be?
When we started our homeschool year I was dreading being home with these two together. I fantasized about schooling them one-on-one. I wished I could have alternating days with each. I did not want to be in the middle of their war, day after day. But something strange began to happen.
They began to play.
With no classrooms full of kids their own ages, without the exhaustion that the school day inflicted, and with hours and hours of time every day, they found each other again. The difference was observable within the first week. I didn’t want to jinx it. I didn’t even want to mention it. But I noticed.
Then one day the children’s pastor at our church (who had previously been a school teacher herself) asked, “Do you think the girls get along better now that they are home schooled?” Those words. They washed over me in a wave of gratitude. It wasn’t just my imagination. It was true. Grace told me about how she had even noticed it at church. How they would wait for each other in the hall, or the way one would place an arm around the other.
Yes. I had noticed.
The way Sera would help Amelie spell a difficult word.
The way Amelie would help Sera follow directions as to not get ahead of herself.
The way they once again, took on the shape of an inseparable unit.
And in between.
Recently a friend of theirs asked the girls what they had given up for Advent. In our tradition, Advent is like Lent…A time for reflection and waiting until the 12 day celebration that is Christmas. We joked that we tried to get Amelie to give up ketchup but it didn’t work. No, they didn’t give anything up this season.
But there was one day–when Amelie had a sudden fever and couldn’t go to a friend’s birthday party and was miserably sad. On top of this, I told her she couldn’t have her Advent chocolate because I didn’t want the sugar to impede the healing process. Immediately, Sera offered to give up her Advent chocolate in an act of solidarity. On Christmas Eve when Sera had a fever, Amelie returned the gesture. Both girls gave up their chocolate, but in the spirit of Advent, received the selfless love of each other.
My girls are human, and they still disagree and fight. But I hope when they are older, they can tell others their story. “We are best friends now…and we were best friends when we were little, too.”