The day I left for college, I happened to glance up at my bedroom window as the car backed out of the driveway. My youngest sister, who was just about to start the fourth grade, was waving at me. At first, I thought she was saying goodbye, but then she grinned and held up her suitcase. I was moving out and she wasn’t wasting any time moving into my room. No doubt, our other sister helped with the packing.
Now, twenty-one years later, I’m moving back to my hometown. My husband is being transferred to Washington, D.C. and we’re in the process of buying our first house. While I was immediately sold on my new neighborhood, I was even more excited when I realized the new house is less than a mile from my youngest sister’s home. It will be the first time in our adult lives we’ll be close enough to get together on a regular basis for something other than a wedding, a holiday or a baptism.
On TV, sisters are either constantly at each other’s throats or seem to have absolutely no boundaries or personal space. My sister and I are not competitive like Jan and Marsha Brady and we’re sure not the Kardashians—I don’t care to know every intimate detail of her relationship with her husband.
Yet, I’m interested to see how our relationship will evolve and develop. Here’s the thing: I really like Caitlin. She’s wickedly smart, has a great sense of humor, and has the freakish ability to recall even the most obscure piece of trivia. In short, she’s exactly the kind of person I’d like to have as a friend.
We were far enough apart in age that we really didn’t fight much as we were growing up. In fact, we really didn’t have much in common except for the fact we lived under the same roof. She was the baby of the family and sometimes I think I looked at her as more of a plaything than a friend. I hope she has forgiven me for the time I convinced her that her real name was Carrie Ingalls (my other sister and I were huge fans of “Little House on the Prairie”). Much to my mother’s chagrin, she refused to answer to her real name or leave the house without a sunbonnet on for days.
As we’ve gotten older, we’ve become much more close. Thanks to the military my husband and I have lived all over the country. Caitlin has come to visit us at every duty location. Except for our parents, she’s the only member of either of our families to have made the effort. Once, she even volunteered to drive with my two kids and me from Washington, D.C. to Fort Campbell, KY. Not many other twenty-four year olds would have submitted to spending 12 plus hours in a confined space with two preschoolers. Although, after my son vomited all over the car, she never offered to do it again.
How do we move beyond the roles of Big Sister and Little Sister? These days, it almost feels like our roles are reversed. After all, I’m the one struggling to re-enter the workforce after staying home with my kids and she’s the one with the graduate degree and the established career. I’ll be the one attempting to find my way around a city that has changed tremendously since I last lived there and she’s the one who knows where to get the best Thai takeout. I’ve lost touch with many of my hometown friends and she has a tight-knit group of girlfriends. I’d like to be one of them, yet at the same time, I don’t want to be pushy and intrude on her life already in progress.
But while I’m facing some major changes in my life, so is she. Caitlin’s first baby is due any day now. She’s been such a great aunt to my kids; I can’t wait to see her as a mother. It’s as mothers that I hope we’ll really be able to connect. My first baby was born when we lived in Germany so I had to rely on my friends and neighbors for help and support. I would have loved to have a sister close by to lean on.
What does my ideal relationship with my sister look like? I’ll tell her and her husband to drop by with the baby because we’re throwing some chicken on the grill and the wine is chilling. On a warm evening, we’ll meet up for a walk around the neighborhood. She’ll call me when she has tried everything the parenting book says to do and the baby is still crying. We’ll be friends because we want to be, not because we have to be.