Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Mother-Sister

No comments

She is my mother-sister. At least, that is what I have come to believe in my thirty-sixth year of life, as I stare down at the plastic shopping bag she drops at my feet, broad smile panning across her face.

I peer into the bag, curious and masochistic, instantly recognizing that not one but two pink T-shirts sequined with the stainless steel likeness of a reindeer head are waiting there, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

"Do you like them?" she asks. "We'll be twins this Christmas."

***

I am an only child and never asked for a sister, I think to myself, as she slides one T-shirt over her blonde, purposefully dyed head, just a glimmer of grey roots flashing against the baby pink cotton. "Put yours on and let's get a picture," she says. The head of the reindeer hangs lifelessly from my hand.

***

I put on the T-shirt because 36 years of guilt make me do it. Guilt, the origins of which I have never completely understood until now. No matter how hard you try, you cannot be a daughter-sister to your mother, I think. The cool pink cotton compensates for the itchiness of the sequined deer head rubbing against my chest as my mother suddenly darts from my right side to my left (she claims this is her "better side") shouting at my husband to get the photo. My wide-eyed daughters observe with curiosity while I make mental note to throw out our family's matching navy 4th of July flag shirts tomorrow.

***

I remember that day, every day, multiple times a day, because the photo has been matted in a distinctively similar baby pink to that of my reindeer-headed T-shirt and lovingly framed (not by me) in a magnetized plastic sheath designed to be hung on the refrigerator. This means that every morsel of nourishment, sip of drink, or shard of ice retrieved from that space comes with a glossy, framed reminder that my mother believes she is my sister. Why do I say this, you ask? Because it is not natural to be dressed like your children. But it is natural to be dressed like your twin.

***

I finally understand that I was subjected to 36 years of destructive arguments laden with competitive slurs, which emanated from a person, a good person, who struggled to have her own identity as a child. Who was, in fact, a child when she had her child. Who desperately wanted and was systematically denied an opportunity to develop her own self. Who wanted to go to college but was prohibited. Who wanted to write but was discouraged from self-expression. Who saw her own child flourish with such opportunities, such an ironic stab in the gut. Who wanted more for her child, but secretly wanted much more for herself and bitterly recognized that she would not get it.

***

This means that her sense of inadequacy and jealousy are cleverly, albeit subconsciously, disguised in her not-so-subtle statements to me of "You're getting fat" or "I could have written better than you if I was given a chance" or "People really love me -- they think I am special." Competing, struggling, showcasing her skills and abilities against mine, upping the ante, one success of mine having to every time be flanked by an accomplishment of hers. Like sisters.

***

Yet, she retreats into her own sense of guilt, remembering she is a mother first, offering a belated expression of praise, giving me a gift, making me dinner, babysitting my two children. This is when I struggle the most with my own profound sense of guilt, accepting her favors as all good children do, and secretly wanting more of them, all the while sneaking opportunities to remind my girls "Grandma is crazy." Especially when she offers them pictures of their auras or delicate crystals hanging from silver chains, items guaranteed to predict the future and ward off evil spirits. Little does she know the evil spirit is me, carefully keeping their affections targeted to the right person, the one competition I think I can win.

***

Next Christmas. I open the door, snowflakes swirling in an ethereal halo around her blonde head, plastic shopping bag in her hand. This year it is red poly-knit long-sleeved crews embroidered with what seem to be garish yellow Stars of David not exactly commensurate with our Christmas festivities, one for me, one for her. I will put it on. I will put it on and I will wear it, accepting that she is the only mother I have and the sister I never wanted.


Kim Harrison is a social work professor and clinical social work consultant from Lawrence, Kansas. She has a patient husband, six great kids, and family who visits on a daily basis.


More from



Comments are now closed for this piece.