By Kathy Cummins
My granddaughters fight. They make each other cry. Still learning social skills at ages four and nearly two, they grab each other’s toys when they feel they have the greater right to them. They yell, shove each other, and occasionally throw punches. A few days ago, however, I observed an unexpected display of sister love between them that caused my thinking about their fighting to change so profoundly that I practically felt the neurons in my brain shift.
The fighting is indeed, at their age, only about immature social skills, and I now know that sister love resides deep in a girl’s or woman’s DNA. Like the hormones that cause my hot flashes, sister love cannot be denied when activated. While it might lie unattended during a dispute over whose baby doll is whose or it might become matter-of-fact when the siblings grow up and move away from home, it stands ready to be switched on at a moment’s notice. I offer proof from three generations in the following examples.
My four sisters and I all live in different states, but we keep in contact via phone calls, emails, and texts. When one of us is having a particularly bad day, all we have to do is text “any sisters out there?” or email a request for some sister time on the phone, and at least three of the four will respond. And if the fourth doesn’t respond, it’s usually because her Internet was out of order and she didn’t get the message.
A few years ago, the spouse of one of our sisters was seriously ill and in the hospital for months. The stress of running the household without him, visiting him in the hospital as much as possible after work, and of course worrying greatly about him was horrible. Since we all live far from each other, the sisters gave phone and email support, but no physical support until one week she reached the end of her rope and called out to us in distress. Before I had time to even casually check flights, I learned that our oldest sister had already booked hers. She dropped everything she might have had planned and went. The cost to fly out for just a weekend of sister time was high, not only in dollars but also in making arrangements for her teenage daughters and for missed work while she was gone. It was one of the most impressive acts of love I have ever witnessed.
The second most impressive act of sister love in my family I know of was one I did not witness but only heard about years later. In the wee hours of one weekend night, one of my two high-school-aged daughters vomited all over the bathroom. I had been asleep, and by the time I finally heard noises, her sister had already cleaned the mess off the cabinets, wall, and floor. The daughter who had vomited spent the next day on the couch with a fever and was truly sick, but what I found out later was that her sister thought the vomiting was due to drinking alcohol and had cleaned up the disgusting mess so that I wouldn’t find out. If that isn’t sister love, nothing is!
Which brings us to the youngest generation and the episode that opened my eyes once and for all to the strength of sister love. Granddaughter #1 and granddaughter #2 had just had a big fight over a doll, with shoving, tears, and threats of time-outs. We adults managed to get them to their separate corners. Big sister had won the fight over the doll and was playing with it, though still grumping. Little sister, currently fascinated with light switches, moved toward the switch and turned off the light. Instantly, big sister dropped the doll, lay down on the floor, and began fake-snoring. After a few seconds, little sister turned the light back on, they said a happy “good morning!” to each other, and big sister resumed play with the doll. The game went on a few more times, big sister interrupting her own play to join her sister’s game. As if by the same switch, sister love was activated each time little sister turned off the light.
The aftermath of a huge sister vs. sister fight was still in the air, yet when one of them initiated what was obviously a frequent game, the other joined in without a thought of past hurt. That special DNA won’t be kept down. Switched on or switched off, it’s sister love either way.
Kathy Cummins raised two girls while moving from Indiana to St. Louis to Germany to Pittsburgh and then to Chicago during their early childhood. She’s now back home in Indiana and recently retired after 30 years as a professional manuscript editor. You can read her current adventures at outofworkeditor.com.