From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul


Blessed are those who believe and see through the eyes of a child.

Author Unknown

I never had a sister, just two younger brothers. Now that we are adults, we get along well, even though it seems as though I spent much of my childhood trying to get rid of them. I wasn’t exactly what you would call a benevolent older sister. But with a sister, I thought it would have been different. I envied the relationship that a few of my friends had with their sisters. When I had two daughters of my own, I hoped that they would have what I had only dreamed of.

It didn’t start out that way at first. When the girls were young, although they got along most of the time, they weren’t exactly soul mates. Maybe it was the difference in their ages—Shoshana was nearly five when Ilana was born—or maybe just a difference in personalities. As they got older, my dream of a special relationship between these two sisters seemed less important. After all, they were beautiful, bright children, and while they were not unusually close, they clearly loved each other.

But then, when I had almost forgotten the dream, things began to change.

It was June and Shoshana was fourteen, about to enter high school. Like many of the other teenagers in our small community, she had decided to attend a school in Chicago. The school had an excellent academic reputation, which helped offset our apprehension about sending our little girl nearly 100 miles away from home, with her coming home only on the weekends.

It was hard at first to think of our child so far away, but my husband and I knew it would be good for her, and we gradually got used to the idea.

But Ilana didn’t.

Actually, I didn’t know that at the time. I was preoccupied with Shoshana’s needs, and I didn’t really stop to think about the effect this would have on Ilana. She was only nine, and it didn’t occur to me that she would have such strong feelings on the subject. After all, in only four more years Shoshana would be going off to college anyway. It just didn’t seem like such a big difference to me. But it was to Ilana.

I wish I could say that I knew this because I had many long, heartfelt discussions with Ilana on this subject or because Ilana confided in me, or because she told Shoshana how she felt. But that would be a lie. I only found this out by accident.

One morning, about a week before Shoshana was scheduled to leave for her new school, I went into Ilana’s room to put away some clean laundry. I found Ilana sitting on the floor, surrounded by several piles of photographs. I looked more closely, I saw that they were the pictures from our family’s summer camping trip. I hadn’t even seen the pictures yet. They must have arrived in the mail just that morning. I was mildly annoyed that Ilana had just taken them up to her room without telling me, but what I saw next made me really angry. Ilana had taken scissors and glue, and was carefully cutting out the figures on some of the pictures and pasting them onto a sheet of pink construction paper.

“What are you doing?” I yelled. “Stop that! Why are you cutting up those pictures?”

I didn’t wait for an answer. I just grabbed the pictures and stormed out of the room. I was too angry to talk to Ilana at that moment. I just threw the pictures on the dresser in my room and stormed off.

Ilana stayed in her room the rest of the morning. When it got to be lunchtime, I decided that I should go up and talk with her. By now, I was more curious than angry. I wanted to know why she had been cutting up the pictures.

When I opened the door to Ilana’s room, I saw that she had fallen asleep on the bed. Lying beside her was the pink construction paper. I picked it up and turned it over. About half of the paper was covered with a collage of photographs that Ilana had cut out and assembled from the family vacation pictures, as well as a few older pictures from several years ago. Every picture was of her and Shoshana. Here they were, as infant and toddler, in the bathtub together. Here they were, in front of the mirror, with my lipstick and high heels. And in another, Shoshana was holding onto the back of Ilana’s bike as she learned to ride without training wheels. I remembered that day. Ilana had come running into the house, beaming with pride. “I did it, Mommy!” she exclaimed. “Shoshana taught me!”

I sat down on the bed, and Ilana stirred and opened her eyes. “Hi, honey,” I said gently.

Her lower lip quivered. “I’m sorry, Mommy,” she said.

“I know, honey,” I said. “It’s okay. I’m sorry I got so angry. “What were you making, anyway?” I asked her.

She took the pink paper from my hand and studied it. “It’s for Shoshana,” she said finally. “She can hang it up on the wall in her new room.”

“That’s a good idea,” I agreed.

Then she looked up at me. “She’s going to be really far away now. And she’s going to be really busy; she’ll have a lot of homework and a lot of new friends.”

I reached out and hugged her. I knew what she was thinking, but it was too painful to say it out loud. How could I reassure her that things wouldn’t change so much? How to tell her with confidence that her sister wouldn’t forget about her? After all, I wondered those very same things myself. I didn’t have the words to comfort her, but Ilana’s next question provided the answer.

“Do you think she’ll like it?” she asked. “I shouldn’t have used pink. Shoshana hates pink. I like pink; that’s why I picked it, but it’s not for me.”

“I think she’ll love it,” I answered gently. “She’ll look at it every day and she’ll think of you because you like pink.” And I knew she would.

When Shoshana moved into her new room, it took her several weeks before she was settled in, and found places for all of her things. But she hung up the pink paper the very first day.

And Ilana was right: Shoshana was very busy those first few months. We spoke on the phone every night, but we only saw her on weekends, and then she had homework and wanted to spend time with her friends. But she had that pink paper to remind her. And she remembered well. I found this out by accident, too. One evening, a few weeks after the start of the school year, I walked into the den. Ilana was sitting at the computer and she started giggling.

“What’s so funny?” I asked. Ilana pointed to an e-mail from Shoshana.

“Remember the time I was teaching you to ride without training wheels?” the message began. “I let go of the bike, and you couldn’t steer and you rode right through Mrs. Parker’s flower bed. You squashed all of her tulips.” By Thanksgiving, Ilana had a stack of e-mails an inch high from her sister. Each one started out with a reference to one of the pictures.

It took a physical distance between them to bring them closer emotionally. During the four years that Shoshana was away, Ilana became a teenager herself. The two girls found that they had more in common than just memories and a shared childhood. But it was precisely those memories and those shared experiences that formed the basis for their friendship, and that gave them something to build on. All of those years, when I had all but forgotten about the bond that I hoped they would develop, it was happening right under my nose and I didn’t even recognize it.

When Shoshana went away to college, Ilana was just starting high school. She and Shoshana continued their frequent e-mail conversations. Ilana printed out and saved every one. And when Shoshana moved into her new dorm room, the first thing she hung up on the wall was the pink picture.

Last summer Shoshana got married. Ilana was her maid of honor. We have a whole album of beautiful pictures, including many of our two daughters together. But Ilana gave Shoshana and her new husband a picture of her own. It’s a lovely picture of the two sisters, taken in front of our house on a soft spring morning. And on the frame, there is a lovely inscription: “A sister is a supportive companion, loyal and loving, protective and kind. A keeper of secrets, a one of a kind. A true friend in thought, and provider of memories.”

When Shoshana and her husband moved into their new apartment I went over to help them unpack and settle in. The apartment was in chaos, filled with suitcases, partially opened gifts and half-eaten pizza. Shoshana had just started unpacking, and she had carefully laid out the important things the young couple would need as they started their new life together— toothbrushes, linens, a frying pan.

And of course, Ilana’s pink picture.

We fill many roles throughout life, but just because we become something new—wives and mothers, for example, we never stop being what we were as children— daughters and sisters. Shoshana is a wife now. One day, God willing, she’ll be a mother. But she is wise enough to know that the adult she is today owes much to the child she once was. She fills her home with the things of her own choosing that make her happiest, that bring her joy and remind her of those she loves and who love her. She and her sister still have time together, to giggle and share secrets and just be sisters with their own private language. There is enough love between them to share with others. Shoshana and her husband are in the process of writing their own history, of making memories together that they will share with their children and grandchildren in the years to come.

If she is very lucky, my daughter Shoshana will, one day, come across a child of hers cutting up pictures on the bedroom floor. And if I know Shoshana, she’ll look at an old faded pink paper that will be framed and hung on the wall of some room in her house and she’ll do what I should have done.

She’ll smile to herself and softly close the door.

Phyllis Nutkis

More stories from our partners