16 Oct

One cousin showing the other how to brush

After our sightings of magpies in the park last week – me one, my sister three – I am set for sorrow and she is carrying a girl.

My sister won’t find out the sex of her baby until the birth in a few months, so who knows if that will prove to be correct, but I don’t need a nursery rhyme to know that I am feeling sad.

I miss my sister and she hasn’t even left yet. In a few weeks she will be moving to New York with her husband and son (my nephew). I am anticipating more tears, more “You have no idea what I’m going through” accusations unfairly directed at my husband, and more “I have a feeling you’re going to fall into a deep depression when she goes” dramatic predictions from my mother. If she’s right I’ll be on heavy medication by the New Year.

Of course, I am thrilled for them all. I don’t want to create a self-portrait as a needy, embittered, jealous sister left to struggle in the UK while her younger sibling embarks on a glamorous life Stateside.

“I am so happy for you! That is amazing!” I say, breathless on the phone a few weeks ago when I find out, not quite able to carry on the conversation for fear of interrupting all the excitement with heavy, rude sobbing. I put the phone down. I call a friend and save the snot and tears for her. “They got the job. My sister’s leaving. I’m so fucking sad!”

Despite feeling genuine delight that they have the opportunity to live in a truly wonderful city – and selfish as it may sound – I feel devastated.

I am aware that moving is not akin to death. I am reading a lot about dying at the moment which can’t help, but at least it reminds me that the end of life is final and a loved one moving to another country is not. There are different types of goodbyes and this would rank in the not very serious but still quite upsetting type of farewell. I can still visit, and call and email and Skype. But the move will mark the end of a very long, lovely era.

I have never been very far away from my sister. In the last decade we’ve either lived in the same house, or around the corner from one another. It’s rare that we even talk on the phone. We can see each other face to face in what is essentially a quick march across the park.

At her wedding last year I gave a speech. I was re-reading it last night, though I barely need a reminder of the reasons why I love her. The following made me realise how I had, until very recently, taken my sister’s ‘being there’ for granted.

“I still can’t believe that we are lucky enough to live so close to each other and I am deeply comforted by the fact that our children will grow up together.”

Our children may very well not grow up together now. It could be a year, it could be twenty or more that my sister and her family are gone, but the fact is that our relationship is about to become a whole lot more inconvenient. Where a walk would have once transported us straight to one other’s doorstep we are now looking at a train, plane and taxi ride.

It is perhaps a little uncomfortable admitting this but, aside from my children I could cope with most people living far away. I am at best a bit of a lazy wife and friend, and at worst plain neglectful. My sister’s constant presence has left me wanting for very few other people in my life.

Whatever the issue, my sister is there. We sometimes swap children (my hormonal pre-teen for her Mexican wrestler three-year-old? I often feel I get the better deal). We swap skills. I taught her the basics of chuck-it-in-and-see-what-it-tastes-like cooking, and she in turn has versed me on the rules of picture hanging. She is always at hand to help when my hasty attempts to rearrange furniture (my spacial awareness is shameful) go wrong. “Please. I need help. The children’s beds are in the middle of the room and they can’t sleep on top of each other tonight.”

We share experience. We have been present for each other during the births of our children and looked to each other for support in the monstrous bits of parenthood and marriage that nobody dares tell you about.

We both understand the frustration of growing up with a father like ours; we find we speak about our mother with a mutual love, and wish she was a car journey rather than a plane ride away, because we love her and miss her even more now we are mothers ourselves.

In all honesty, the feelings I’m experiencing must point to the fact that I find it hard to embrace change, or more specifically I don’t like being left behind. On holiday, I want to drive away before the last suitcase is packed; whenever I’ve moved house, I arrange for the removal men to lock up. I want to be the one giving the backwards glance and the wave.

I would like to take off on that plane to New York next month. Trouble is, it wouldn’t just be me. It would be the children and husband too. Something tells me my plan won’t work this time.

I’ll tell you this, sister. Things will change; our children will grow whole inches in between visits and we’ll perfect the Jewish aunt “Hasn’t he/she grown?” routine; your children will most definitely say certain words with a Brooklyn accent and may even grow up to believe that a fanny is, in fact a bottom (if you don’t watch to correct them).

And the things that won’t change? I swear that when you come to visit us, my bannister will still need painting and the latch on my cupboard won’t be fixed. My marriage will still be a work in progress. My children will continue to teach their cousin (or cousins) inappropriate words or annoying phrases such as eggy guff head. And we will exchange stories, because there will be so much to say. Even now, when we see each other most days, I feel like we always have things to talk about.

I will miss you like crazy – we all will. But there are many, many things to be positive about.

You have a city to explore and I’m sure you are going to meet some incredible people: I cannot wait to hear about it all, and when we visit I want you to show us everything exciting you’ve found. I want to eat the best breakfast in town, and drink the greatest cocktails going (even if you are still breastfeeding). I’m booking every cheap flight going. You are everything I ever need a friend and a sister to be and distance cannot change that.


One Response to “Sisterhood”

  1. Silverstamp.UK (@SilverstampUK) October 23, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    LOVE your blog. Perfect description of everyday family life and the ups and downs. Wondered if you’d like to review our online stationery company? Love you to get in touch.

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