It is frozen in my mind. My oldest daughter brushed my youngest’s hair, while the middle sat next to them and handed over ponytail holders one at a time, as each braid was completed. They were a scene from Little Women, with nightgowns and wet hair, the perfect sisters.
It is an illusion, of course, even though it happened. My daughters fight. A lot. They argue over who gets to choose the next TV show, who owns the shirt with the glittery kitten on it, who gets to sit next to the window in the car, who made the mess that they all refuse to clean up. There are three of them, stepping stones, one smaller than the next. Two years separate each. Our home is loud, as their bookend brothers add to the noise, oldest and youngest, with three girls sandwiched in between.
Today, I watch my daughters. Right now, it’s peaceful. They have new coloring books and markers, and they lie on the carpet, feet in the air, creating. This is a mirage, an oasis in the chaos, and soon, it will dissipate, and there will be yelling and tears and accusations, all disarray and discord in the anarchy of our home.
My girls are no different than most sisters, most siblings, full of both love and hate for each other. I know this, and yet, it pains me. I want them to be harbors for each other, ports in the storm, havens in a world that can hurt. But it’s too much to ask at the ages of twelve, ten, and eight.
Perhaps it is because I never had this, the idealized sibling relationship. I have two siblings, one a sister, and we have never been close. I was very separate and I never felt the same connection I saw, and craved, between other siblings. The distance didn’t lessen as we grew to adulthood. I would hear friends claim their sister as their best friend and I didn’t understand. Then I gave birth to these girls. I wanted nothing so much as for them to be each other’s bosom friends and kindred spirits.
I feel a tremendous, overwhelming desire for my children to have what I do not—each other.
Possibly, it manifests so strongly in me as I look at my daughters because in them, I see what I am missing and what I still hope for myself. I want to give it to them. I want to take their tiny faces in my hands and tell them, “This is your sister. She is going to understand who you were when you were five years old. You won’t have to explain childhood memories to her. It was her childhood, too. She has always been there. And, if you are lucky, she always will be.” I want to force them to understand.
Alas, I cannot. And they will continue to bicker and cry and annoy each other. So I focus on the fact that they love to have mini-slumber parties together, and stay up way too late giggling and watching YouTube challenges and videos about making seven different kinds of slime. That when my youngest daughter wakes up scared, she climbs out of bed and into the top bunk with her sister. I will think of how the oldest walked her younger sisters to their classrooms every day until they didn’t need her to anymore. I will cling to the fierce loyalty I do see between them.
Often, I wonder what their relationships will look like in the future. One day I will not be here for them and I desperately want them to be there for each other. I want their family circles as adults to include the people they grew with as children. I want their most vulnerable parts to be safe with each other. I want them to have each other’s backs. I want them to call each other first when the big things in life happen. I want them to have a connection, a web of woven memories and dreams. I want them to have friendships with each other that include the shared experiences and understandings that only siblings can have.
Some of it will come from luck, but some of it can be encouraged by me through advocating respect, understanding, responsibility, and empathy in our home. I can’t force their bond, but I can try to strengthen it and nurture affection. The atmosphere in our home is one of welcoming disorder, where family is central to the pandemonium. Laughter, honesty, and connection are emphasized, with varied success. But I continue to try, and I continue to encourage this sisterly friendship because sometimes you can only see the value of a gift when you don’t have it.
When I picture my daughters brushing each other’s hair, it’s priceless.
Guest post written by Kristen Wood. Kristen is a writer, a mother of five, and an aspiring librarian who argues ceaselessly for social justice and feminist causes, so she really likes naps in her free time. Follow her author page on Facebook, where she will attempt to make you laugh, cry, and think, sometimes all at once. You can also see her work on Scary Mommy, PopSugar, Still Standing, Mothers Always Write, and many others.
Photo by N'tima Pruesser.