Sisters Beyond Compare

As long as I can remember, my daughters have been working at their “identities”  in comparison to one another. I’m the “good student,” she’s the “artist…”

Ava's note to Josie

Growing up with a sister only 11 months younger than me, we were compared to each other incessantly. Are you twins? Who is funnier?  Which is prettier? Who is thinner? Which one of you is going to Stanford?  Julie, our babysitter, sat with us, coloring in coloring books. JoAnne was 4, I was 5. After we finished, she looked at our work. “Hm. JoAnne colors very neatly. Caroline, you need to stay within the lines.” (It’s not the first time I’ve heard that and I’m sure it won’t be the last)!

Racist taunts at school and a volatile home life bonded us close together. We shared a secret sense of humor sparked by a facial expression or a nonsense word only the two of us understood. We’d break into giggling fits until our stomach muscles cramped. The spell would only be broken when we were compared. One hurt, the other feeling sorry for her sister.  This one is louder, this one is a better student, this one likes to clean and this one doesn’t.  I was the one deemed by my parents to not be very intelligent (in fact, a veritable disappointment academically), but hella good at the cello and the piano.  I readily labeled myself the “Artist” because of this “encouragement” and because I knew I couldn’t compete with my sister academically. This has been verified and observed in numerous studies: siblings work to differentiate themselves from one another.

My Sister (left) and Me

As my daughters grow, I try to instill a strong work ethic and constantly tout the importance of being true to oneself as the only barometer ofsuccess.  Ava’s written declaration of herself as the poet and Josie as the graphic artist is sweet and telling, but even sweeter is Josie’s advice that it’s “your emotions that make your art a masterpiece.” Her insight is remarkable: your authentic voice, your true thoughts and feelings are what make you “great.” Both girls can be great artists,  fantastic writers, violinists….both are amazing in their own way. 

That is beyond compare.


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