By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
She is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best, and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she’s the reason you wish you were an only child.
From No Friend Like a Sister, published by Barbara Alpert in 1996.
I have been thinking about Barbara Alpert’s words as I reminisce about growing up with three sisters, especially one who is just a year and four months younger than I am and in many ways fits Alpert’s definition.
My reminiscing is on-going but over the past few weeks, there has been more of that because one of my sisters has a special celebration planned for the end of this month.
My sister, April, is celebrating her birthday (a significant milestone this year) on Saturday, April 27. Ideally, this birthday party should have been a surprise party planned by April’s husband, daughter and son, but in my family a surprise party would never work.
So April has marshalled her troops and is planning this party with the kind of expertise that would be the envy of a skilled army commanding officer. Everything has been planned down to the last detail, including choice of the banquet hall, decorations, seating arrangements and even the colour scheme for the guests.
That’s right, April has decreed that we all have to wear white, gold or white and gold. Now when this edict came down to me I was tempted to resist. For a few minutes I pictured the consternation that would ensue if I turned up at the party wearing my fire engine red mini dress with matching five-inch heel shoes.
However that rebellion only lasted a few minutes in my imagination. I do not own a fire engine red mini dress or any kind of mini dress and just looking at five-inch heel shoes makes my knees and back hurt. Although I did have a similar outfit more than 20 years ago.
There will be relatives arriving in Toronto from across North America to attend this gala occasion. I have not heard that any of the relatives from the Caribbean, Europe or South America will be attending the bash. But never say never! As sisters (and brothers) growing up in a tight-knit family unit with a strict police officer father, sometimes the nine of us banded together in (subtle) resistance.
The closeness of my siblings was also helped by the fact that we were grounded in the philosophy that your brother and sister were more important than anyone outside of that unit. Another factor was the constant movement of the police officers’ families in Guyana at that time. Some families chose to remain in one location while the father would transfer to various police stations across the country. In our family, we packed up bag and baggage and moved wherever my father was transferred. In spite of the fact that my mother lamented the inevitable broken dishes and some furniture that resulted from each move, move we did. Also, the constant relocating did not facilitate lasting friendships, so we were each other’s best friends for many years until we were older teenagers.
As I witness this mature, take-charge April in party planning mode, I cannot help but remember the 21-year-old (wearing a size two dress) who arrived at Pearson International Airport more than two decades ago. I will not make much comment on her dress size now except to say that it has matured right along with April. And just to prove how much my sister has matured, she has incorporated an African theme in the birthday party, thanks to the influence of her daughter’s Ghanaian friend. This is going to be a wonderfully successful celebration. After all, the all-grown-up, mature April is in charge.
I may have thought for a few minutes about rebelling against the imposition of the white/gold theme my sister instituted but I would not have done anything to spoil her special night. I am sure that if I did not have or could not afford to buy a white dress for the special occasion April would not be standing at the door of the banquet hall armed with a flaming sword or even an ordinary cutlass barring my entrance. Our sister bond nurtured by our parents decades ago is too important.
A 2009 research study done by a professor from the Psychology Research Institute of the University of Ulster found that having good relationships with your sisters is important to your mental health. Psychology professor Dr. Tony Cassidy and his team tested the emotional well-being of 571 people aged 17 to 25. Some had only sisters or brothers, some had both and others were only children. They found that those who had at least one sister were more optimistic, less stressed and better at coping with life’s troubles.
Cassidy gave this explanation for their findings:
“Our explanation for it is that the presence of girls opens up channels of communication and it becomes a much more expressive situation and that’s positive. Emotional expression is fundamental to good psychological health and having sisters promotes this in families.”
The researchers found that both men and women benefitted from having sisters, whether they grew up in a two-parent or single parent home. Cassidy presented the findings of the study at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Brighton, United Kingdom, on April 2, 2009.
I am very thankful that I grew up in a home with three sisters (and five brothers.) Although I do respect the expertise of the psychologists I also value the experience of growing up in a home with my brothers. I am sure that their presence also contributed to my “good psychological health” and healthy self-esteem.
However this article is about sisters and especially about my sister April’s upcoming birthday bash. Happy birthday April and my best wishes that you live to see many, many more!