Dear Ella and Annie,
You really put on a good show today. If I judged your relationship solely on the performance you put on as you walked in the door from school, hissing at one another that “You started it!” “No, YOU started it!” “You shouldn’t have said anything!” “You shouldn’t have hit me!”, I might have assumed that you cannot stand one another, that you are enemies. Come to think of it, when anyone asks you if you think of your sister as your friend, your immediate response is to wrinkle your noses in disgust, raise your eyebrows as if to question their sanity, and quickly respond with a “No way!” or “She’s awful!” or “Well. sometimes…” or, if they catch you on a particularly good day, “I guess so.”
I’ve got to give you an A for effort; you certainly do try to verbally convince everyone that you don’t think the other is worth the ground she stands on. As a parent and an educator, I realize that it’s important to listen to what kids say and all that, but… well… how do I phrase this?
You’re full of crap.
I know, you hate that word – and rightly so – but in this case, it’s true. You’re absolutely full of beans. Liars, really.
Don’t believe me? That’s okay. I’ve got proof.
Sure, you refuse to share the bathroom sink because merely standing beside one another while brushing your teeth results in such pushing and hip-checking, the NHL might consider allowing women to join their ranks. But then, when you’re getting ready separately, one of you will take extra time – and time away from bedtime reading, a treasured evening activity – to dutifully prepare the other’s toothbrush, face toner, and water, complete with labeled note.
When you’re left to your own devices, you’re all buddy-buddy (when you’re not threatening to strangle one another). You create together, you seek each other out to make new games, you giggle and spirit yourselves away, just the two of you, refusing to let me – or anyone – into your private sister-world. When we went on the Disney Cruise, you spent ages in the kids’ club using one of their computer typing programs, sometimes apart and sometimes together – like this.
You started out like gangbusters, clearly working together and sharing happily. But then you must have realized what you were doing – admitting that we like one another? The horror! – and took steps to clarify.
“(Ella) I think she is really annoying sometimes but it’s one of those things that if something happened to her, I would be very very sad.
(Annie) I think Ella is an annoying stink bomb but also the same thing she said about if something happened or whatever.”
How very diplomatic and charming of you.
I couldn’t help noticing, however, that despite your acknowledgments that you each think the other is a pain in the ass but you’d be bummed if she, like, got maimed or whatever, you still deliberately mentioned your relationship in your sign-off.
If “By: Ella and Annie” didn’t suffice, you could have added another disclaimer. “By Ella and Annie, two kickass rockstars.” “By Ella and Annie, two wicked smart gals.” “By Ella and Annie, the world’s most awesome daughters.” But no! You chose to highlight your sisterhood. Curious, no?
Publicly, you sneer at each other when there are struggles, mocking your sister’s difficulties or pooh-poohing her accomplishments. And yet, when one of you reaches a personal goal three nights in a row, you are the first to offer up homemade signs of congratulations, immediately and genuinely with nary a condescending word.
Similarly, you will swear up and down that the other’s passions and interests are bogus; that you don’t give two hoots about the things she likes, that she goes on and on about the same old nonsense, that you couldn’t care less if she succeeds or fails at her most hard-fought endeavors. How, then, do you explain the signs of encouragement that you draw up, cheering on her current attempts by reminding her of the other things in her life that mean the most to her? WHAT SAY YE, LITTLE FIBBERS?
One moment, you’re offering your sister an olive branch – let’s play! You worked so hard on that drawing! That dress looks awesome on you! You’ve really improved on that piano piece! Want to make a fort in the backyard? You’re sweet and adoring and kind.
The next, you’re spewing vitriol, talking about how your sister is THE WORST, how you can’t even be in the car next to her, how all you want is TIME ALONE for God’s sake, how you’ve NEVER liked each other. Your barbs are sharp and quick and aimed to hit right where it counts, even when you’re just being silly.
And yet… right beneath it all (in this case, literally)… is the unmistakable love.
‘Cause here’s the thing: deep down, deepest down, you are crazy about one another. You think your sister hung the moon. You think about her when she’s not around, bringing her the extra goody bag from the birthday party, saving her the last piece of cake instead of eating it yourself simply because you knew she’d like it. You know one another so well, better than I know you, that you practically breathe together. You are, unquestionably, each other’s best friend.
You’ll deny this with every fiber of your beings, stiffening your bodies and huffing – actually huffing, pushing air out your nose in indignation – that I am wrong, wrong, wrong. But then, like last week, Ella will volunteer to be the first (secret) Mystery Reader for Annie’s class. Her teacher might be contacted to ask permission for Ella to miss class in order to read to her sister’s class, and such permission might be granted. There might then be some hemming and hawing, with Ella perhaps insisting that she didn’t really want to volunteer at all (“People change their minds, you know!”), and some choice words being said (by me, *ahem*) about commitments and following through and not going back on one’s word – but all the while, I will know the truth: that, in her deepest down, Ella so very much wants to surprise Annie as the Mystery Reader, but she is terrified of reading aloud in front of all those kiddos, and so she is faced with an awful choice: her sister or herself.
In the end, she will choose her sister (agreeing at the very last minute, of course), and will walk down the hallway on wobbly legs, the book held in shaking hands. She will take deep breaths and steady herself before entering the classroom on Annie’s teacher’s count, awaiting her sister’s response when she realizes who the surprise reader is…
… and, upon recognizing her, Annie will respond from her deepest down with joy that radiates from below and up through her absolutely delighted face, smiling so broadly she can barely contain herself.
I’d videoed the grand reveal but, because I was several paces behind, had missed recording all of Annie’s reaction (plus also she was hidden by the desk partition), but I did manage to take a screen shot (during those first moments of recognition) and enlarge it.
It may be blurry, but that smile doesn’t lie.
And then, as Ella takes the seat that has been placed at the front of the room and prepares to read to the class, Annie will come and sit beside her and… will realize that she has been displaying an unacceptable show of affection – for her sister, of all people – and will adjust her visage accordingly.
That’s your story and you’re sticking to it; anyone who asks you will get the same answer. And really, so long as you’re not rude about it, that’s okay with me because I know the truth. Hell, the whole world knows the truth because the two of you are lousy liars. Although I don’t think it’s always the case, in this instance, your actions drown out your words a million times over.
In the meantime, feel free to keep on insisting differently, and I’ll keep on saving these moments to show you later. (I’d love to pretend otherwise, but when that day comes I will totally say, “I told you so!” because I am nothing if not mature.)
With that said, if you could please save your arguments until at least a few minutes after you come home from school, that would be fantastic; I go from really excited to see you to awfully damn grumpy when you slam the door shut behind you and continue the sparring you’d apparently started on the four-minute walk home.
I do appreciate the work you put into attempting to convince me of your dislike for one another, though. At this rate, you could have stunning careers as actresses, and I’ll be second in line for tickets. After your sister, of course.