Remember in White Christmas when Rosemary Clooney and her counterpart sang that melodic tune, “Sisters?”
(Well, here’s a reminder if you don’t. Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zplgmh8ga78 )
Wasn’t it sweet? The way their voices blended and the way they gracefully complemented each other? The way their smiles showed us the unique bond that only sisters can have?
Well, it’s fiction, people.
I am one of three sisters and I myself have three daughters. And, I am here to tell you it is nothing like that sweet rendition of sisterly love Peggy Lee was singing about. Instead, it’s psychological warfare of the most nefarious kind. A war of female psyche and hormones in which there is no winner.
I think Patricia Volk hit the nail on the head when she referred to the relationship as “volatile love.” Pam Brown lent us deeper insight with her observation that “sisters never quite forgive each other for what happened when they were five.”
In fact, the problem may be exacerbated by the number three. It didn’t work for King Lear either. You see, triumvirates are always problematic because the power dynamics are always shifting one way or another. As far as I can tell, two of them turn on the third, requiring me, the mother, to defend the odd man out, thus adding to the age old rivalry which is based on the irrational but ever present fear that Mom loves one of them best.
No amount of reassurance or mediation will appease this phenomenon.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the rivalry begins because my research reveals that the jealousy is precariously mixed with a dangerous dose of idolatry. My studies have confirmed that the younger one will be enamored of the sister that is immediately older. And, of course, that older sister returns this adoration by treating her biggest fan as though she were a peasant.
“Want to play Princess and Maid?”
Just happy to be addressed by her sister, the younger one is ecstatic at this show of what she considers positive attention. And thus unfolds a series of commands the Princess issues to the maid. Royal and important things like getting drinks, changing the channel, cleaning the imperial bedroom. When the Maid tires of her role, the Princess ratchets up the tension of the game by a suggestion like this:
“Hey! Go and get me some cereal! I’ll time you!”
For some inexplicable reason, this is motivating. Invigorated, the Maid races against the clock to complete the task. The Princess then waits until she hears the pattering of desperate feet before she sings out “…nine, ten…wow, that was fast!”
It will only be a matter of time before the maid poses the inevitable question: “When can I be the Princess?”
“What? You are such a great maid! Seriously! You are so good at it!”
But those were the days. Eventually, the game ends and that hopeless adoration morphs into the type of competition that engendered the Cold War.
In fact, if you were wondering why I didn’t post a blog last weekend, it’s because I was putting out fires of sisterly love. I had waited for five months for us all to be together again and when we were….
Well, let’s just say it’s hard for me to believe that the same three girls who posted on Instagram picture after picture of themselves smiling and hugging one another are the same three who nearly killed one another over the sensitive issue of who would ride shotgun on the way home from the grocery store.
Although the rules of shotgun in our family are very clearly defined, it did not stop one of my daughters from putting the other into a head lock in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. I gave the oldest a stern talking to. After all, I expect more from a 24 year old.
Then there were issues of borrowed clothing. Or stolen clothing, depending on your perspective. After an epic battle of “It’s not my turn to do the dishes,” a selfie squirmish ensued in which one of the three was callously left out; the resulting war of words ended in the loud and defiant slamming of three bedroom doors.
I was downstairs folding the 24 towels (both Princesses and Maids must use three towels a day and dump them into the hamper after only one use). I was musing over that old game of Princess and Maid and the power struggle it reflects. It seemed like a tug of war between exploitation and love. Why, I thought, do we take advantage of those we love? And even more puzzling, what drives a person to let herself be taken advantage of in the name of love? Don’t they see what’s happening?
Of course, it wasn’t long before I heard the sounds of civility upstairs. I was starting in on folding the 50 pairs of panties when one of them called out to me “Mom, can you go get the pizza?”
Before I could answer, another voice sang out
“We’ll time you…”