70: Sibling Rivalry

70: Sibling Rivalry

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Sibling Rivalry

Siblings — the definition that comprises love, strife, competition and forever friends.

~Byron Pulsifer

The day my parents brought me home from the hospital, my sister Patty started a rivalry between the two of us. As I slept she reached into the crib, grabbed the baby bottle and said, “My ba-ba.”

The fight began at that moment and continued for many years. I weighed just under six pounds at birth and remained smaller than my sister for most of our growing up years. Bigger, tougher and far more aggressive than I, she artfully directed my actions like an Army staff sergeant. I dutifully obeyed her mostly from fear of retaliation, but as I grew, I developed my own personal methods of payback.

Mom worked long hours and during my elementary school years I got out of school before my sister. I walked home, usually to an empty place. One of the entrances to the kitchen was in the hallway. After a particularly difficult day, I waited patiently the whole afternoon. Just before she arrived, I hid beside the refrigerator and out of sight from anyone coming down the hall. Holding my breath and keeping completely still and quiet, I paused until a split second after she passed and then jumped behind her, grabbed her shoulder and said, “Boo!” She always jumped. Sometimes she hit me, but realized quickly that I’d get her back later if she did.

Patty had a strong fear of someone kidnapping her. The thought of a black-gloved man grabbing her from behind terrified her. On some occasions after we fought, she sat down to practice piano. One day, as she became more engrossed in notes, scales and her most recent songs, I tiptoed to Mom’s bedroom and retrieved black leather gloves from the dresser drawer. I slipped them on my small hands, pushed the lock in on the bathroom door (leaving it opened of course) and returned to the living room with great stealth. At the peak of her practice time, I approached her back and threw my hands over her eyes. Her blood-curdling scream raced through the house as I jumped back in a fit of giggles, avoiding her fists. Before she recovered and stumbled from the piano bench, I ran to the bathroom and slammed the door behind me. What followed was a loud mixture of my cackling and her pounding fists on the door, but I stayed behind the locked door until I heard the piano again.

Eventually, I grew tired of the sibling rivalry. I really detested fighting with my sister. My fifth grade year arrived with turmoil at home and our parents’ divorce. More than ever, I needed a big sister’s love instead of an enemy. One day, I was helping the school counselor check some standardized tests, and we began to talk. She knew my family well.

I asked, “Why does my sister always pick fights with me?”

With a world of wisdom, she didn’t answer my question. Instead, in a gentle voice, she said, “You know, it will hurt her more if you don’t fight back. Try to just ignore it when she wants to argue.”

The next time we started fighting, the counselor’s words flitted around my mind. Why not try it? A little uncertain, but willing to try, I ignored Patty. She kept pushing. To make sure she got the point, I took it to the next level.

I said, “It’s so quiet here by myself.”

She muttered something insulting.

I retorted, “I hate being all alone in this big ole house.” I made sure she got the point that I was ignoring her.

We kept going back and forth for a while, but I never broke down. Sometimes I kept silent and at other times spoke only to myself. I directed nothing I said to her.

In sheer frustration, she begged, “You can hit me! Please just talk to me.”

What do you know? It worked.

We repeated this process many more times until one day the fighting stopped. We began a friendship, and over the next two years became best friends. Although we still had occasional fights and sometimes intensely disliked each other, it no longer felt like a daily battle between us. We watched out for each other and shared secrets. Sometimes we spent hours telling each other our dreams. We passed the phone to each other when our grandmother called and talked for hours. We covered each other when someone cracked a glass table during a forbidden indoor game of blind man’s bluff. Neither of us knew how in the world that table got broken, and neither admitted that we invited neighborhood kids inside that day. I removed her glasses at night when she fell asleep reading.

By the time we made it to junior high school, we genuinely liked each other.

I had a job working in the library during one of my class periods. One day, her English class came into the room. As I checked out her book, one of her classmates was shocked by the revelation that we were sisters. “You can’t be sisters,” they said. “You like each other too much.” We both smiled.

Throughout the years, we watched most of our friends who had sisters fight like cats and dogs. Instead, I treasured my sister, who doubled as a best friend during some difficult years of my young life. The baby bottle incident became a family joke, and I learned that a sister could be a great friend.

She still is.

~Lisa Bell

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