Thursday, April 10, 2008

More Than Just a Shopping Spree

Three days ago I spent my lunch break walking and talking with Baby Sister about her relationship troubles. She called me two days ago to let me know that she and her boyfriend of three years just broke up. It was mutual and she was prepared for it to happen, so, other than general sadness, there weren't/aren't any overwhelmingly upsetting emotions for her. Then she called me yesterday to ask me to take the afternoon off from work today so we could spend some time together. She didn't want to sit in her dorm room all day doing homework again. We decided - let's go shopping! What better way to perk up a sad (and now rainy) day?

I've been thinking recently about how much my relationship with Baby Sister has changed over the years. We are five years apart, and the gap in our ages seems to be finally closing. When we were little I took my responsibility as the eldest child very seriously. Middle Sister and Baby Sister were to look up to me, want to be like me, and to learn from me. I was paving the way for their childhood and growth into teenage years, so I should be duly respected. Of course my sisters did not agree with this philosophy. And it caused a lot of stress on our relationships for many years.

When I finally went off to college, after a tumultuous summer fighting with my parents, Baby Sister was only in 8th grade. In high school I didn't have a lot of interest in anyone but myself, so I left not really knowing her that well. Freshman year of college I was still wrapped up in myself and my own problems. Coming home on breaks and over the summer I just expected my family to be the same as when I left them. I remember being surprised that certain daily habits (such as where the bathroom towels were hung) had changed in my absence.

Sophomore year of college I transferred to Franciscan University and started gradually changing myself. I still didn't understand how to relate to my sisters when I returned home, however. In fact, that year could have done the most damage to our relationships. I was so full of vigor for my reinvigorated faith and new understanding of Catholicism that I couldn't help but overflow my enthusiasm onto my family. The problem was that I still wasn't very good at listening or speaking the proper words. I found myself constantly arguing with my sisters, their defenses up and ready for me, and me unable to explain what I really meant to say. Junior year wasn't much better.

But finally in my senior year I was engaged and preparing for marriage. My mother desperately hoped that wedding plans would bring we three sister together at last. One of my favorite memories from that time was spending a "Sister Day" together, four days before the wedding. We all painted a large ceramic bowl and had it fired in kiln with glaze. It was my wedding present from my sisters. And it was really fun to work together artistically, with each sister's personality enameled on the bowl. I think at that point we all started to realize that our family would never be the same again. It was expanding to include Ryan, and we would only live an hour away. But it wasn't ever going to be just the three sisters again.

In these two years of marriage, God has blessed me by softening my tongue, and therefore, building better relationships with my sisters. I've also had time to reflect on all of our sisterly spats, to think about the cause of them. I always knew that Middle Sister and I were direct opposites, but I couldn't quite figure out what created the tension between Baby Sister and me. This year, with Baby Sister at Notre Dame, I've come to realize that we are very much alike. In fact, sometimes it's downright uncanny how similar we are. I see now that the tension came from one particular similarity - our untactful bluntness. We are honest, but not always kind. And we are both very convicted by our beliefs - to the point where we disregard other opinions because we obviously already know the truth and no one's else's point of view will change our minds.

I've also learned these past few years how being right isn't always good for relationships. Knowing the truth, but expressing it without compassion won't change anyone's mind and will only breed resentment. But listening is very important. And waiting for others to ask for advice before doling it out is also non-negotiable.

So, three days ago, Baby Sister asked for advice and I really listened to her. Even though we are going shopping today (and I seriously need new clothes), I think our afternoon is really about spending sister time together. My mother will be pleased - her daughters are finally discovering the joys of their sisterhood!

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