These sisters. One, tall and willowy with long, curly, golden hair. The other petite and athletic, with a glossy, black bob. People often ask me if they are real sisters, and of course, I say yes.
Our older daughter, Tab, was well established as the princess of the family when we brought our younger daughter, Ann, into our family. She was ecstatic. This sister had been yearned for and prayed over since before she could remember. We started our adoption process on her first birthday, so there was never a time she didn’t anticipate a dark-haired best friend and playmate. When we arrived home from China, she had just turned three. Ann was fourteen months younger. Their meeting at the airport was timid on both sides.
The first few weeks were, of course, simply survival. Ann, so eagerly anticipated and prayed over by our church family, was welcomed there like a celebrity, and I started to notice Tab realizing that she was not getting the attention she used to get. Her brothers were enamored with Ann, and her closest friends were more interested in Ann.
At the grocery store, people stopped to tell me, “She’s so cute,” and I saw Tab look up to notice that they weren’t talking about her. I knew at the time that this would just be a season, and that things would level off, but I could see her withdrawing and making plays for attention. My husband and I may have overcompensated, making sure to tell Tab all the time how much we loved her, taking her on special outings, and just trying to fill the void.
Being a sister was not what she had anticipated.
Ann’s life story is a hard one that I won’t share here, but she came into our home badly needing unconditional love and a forever family. She loved the attention, as any child would, but we had to be very careful to keep her close to us. Even now, home over two years, indiscriminate affection can be a challenge. We pulled the cocoon in close and spent most of our time just with each other. And she began to thrive.
The girls spent nearly every minute together: sharing a room, in the same classes at church and, until Tab started kindergarten this past August, both home with me full time. They sort of took turns seeking each other out. Tab would try to play a game, Annie wouldn’t understand, and Tab would stop trying for a while. Ann would try to play with Tab’s toys, Tab wouldn’t want to share, and Ann would give more space for a bit.
For over a year, they were sort of just sharing the space without becoming closer. On some level, I knew this was probably normal, and on another level, it broke my heart. I felt like they were both hurting, and wanted to connect, but didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to help them.
I tried to be more deliberate about engaging them in activities together. We played games, signed them up for soccer, spent our weekdays doing a lot of preschool homeschool activities, snuggled on the couch watching movies, playing dress up, and reading endless books. I started to see a little bit more of a friendship building! I prayed for wisdom and for their little hearts to be knitted together. I see glimpses of it, and it is wonderful.
As I thought about what to write for this post I told my husband I was feeling unsure of what to say because they will still spend an entire day screaming at each other, sometimes saying the most hurtful things. They are older and much more verbal now! He said, in his calm, logical way, “That’s what sisters do.” He’s right, of course.
The story is complex and ongoing, and I can’t even really figure out how to tell it or what perspective to take. So, I think I will just acknowledge this. This is hard, this building of a sisterhood, and I don’t always facilitate it well. I strive to have realistic and educated expectations, but sometimes I blow it, and I’m able to see that my natural inclination is to put my partly-selfish expectations onto two sweet girls who are just trying to do the best they can to share one life.
As they get older, they’ll likely have their own friends and activities, but this is where we are right now, and we’re all learning to navigate it together.
– guest post by Megan