On Being A Sister


The other morning during breakfast, Hudson looked up from his plate to spontaneously say, “I love you, Skyler.” She responded with an aggressively tender hug, only to be met with “you’re in my bubble” and a hand gesture to demarcate the imaginary line between their two chairs. It didn’t deter her.

I watch and wonder what it will be like for them to grow up together, to perhaps grow apart, but to—I hope—always share a special bond. As an only child, I can only imagine. I asked Sarah Ann Noel, a mother to two sisters, a sister herself, to talk a bit about her experience of this sibling relationship—and would love to hear from others as well. 

On Being a Sister
by Sarah Ann Noel

My sister and I are like pictures of night and day.

She is lean and long-limbed; my curves only make me look shorter than my already small frame. She is dark-headed, clothed in olive skin; my hair bleaches nearly blonde in the sun, and my skin is always slightly pink. Her features are sharp and exotic, showing off our Mediterranean heritage; my round, blue eyes could only be called all-American. To be honest, our personalities are equally stark contrasts, and so we somehow dodged the classic understanding of what sisters are like.

But. When we were in college, we both worked at our local Hollister at different times. She worked there for a summer and a few months during the school year while I was abroad. When I came back to the States, she was heading back to photography school in Santa Barbara, so I took over her position, grateful to not have to look too hard for a job that would accommodate my class schedule. We never worked there together, never met our co-workers together. I think only our manager knew we were related, and sometimes he had to be reminded. One evening, as I was folding t-shirts with ridiculously phrased screen-print tees, one of my colleagues came up to me.

“You have a sister who works here, don’t you?”

I nodded. “Well, she used to. I took her place.”

“I knew it,” the girl said. “You two look so much alike.” I just laughed! There wasn’t any truth in the statement; but from the way this girl spoke, you would have thought we were twins.

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My daughters, Iris and Edith, are often mistaken for twins. They’re both blonde-haired, light-eyed, cheerful and bright. They are sisters in every physical sense, and people love to point out how alike they look. Of course, as their mother, I see all the differences in both their looks and their personalities, and ever-cautious of wanting them to feel like individuals, we talk a lot about how their special personalities or physical traits make them unique.

When we were young, my sister and I were so accustomed to being different in every way, I don’t think we took the time to appreciate how alike we might be, all because of that familial thread the runs through both of us. I recounted the Hollister incident to her, and we laughed, trying to identify what that girl saw: Maybe the way our eyes scrunch when we smile. Or the way we over-gesticulate when speaking. Or how our eyebrows shoot up when we belly laugh.

The other day, Edith hurt herself playing with her sister. I rushed to comfort her and pulled her into my arms, saying all the things concerned mothers say, stroking her hair. Iris came over and put her hand on her sister’s hand and they stared into each others’ eyes while Edith cried, not flinching, not uncomfortable at that level of intimacy. Similar or different, they’re woven together by the same fabric, something that connects them whether they both have fair skin and yellow hair or not.

My sister and I have not lived in the same city since we both started college, nearly 15 years ago. Distance and life have kept us from being close confidants in everything. I certainly don’t know the ins and outs of her days, who all of her friends are, or what sort of coffee she orders these days. Her hair is still dark and her style is more carefree than mine. Some of our tastes have blended, some are more different than ever before. I realized, though, how little that matters in the grand scheme of things when I called her the other day.

“I have to tell you a secret,” I said. “There is literally no one else I can talk to about this.”

We are woven together in a way that, even when she doesn’t know me all the way, she will know me unlike anyone else can. It’s the beautiful thing about raising two girls—to have made sisters, to have borne two humans from the same parts like that, and to know that they will always have each other, no matter what.


[Top photo by Rebecca Caridad for Fellow Magazine]

P.S. On choosing to have an only child.

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