WHAT I LEARNED LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF MY SISTER

A cousin of mine recently expressed the fact that she felt rejected after sensing that she was approached by a guy only as second choice to her sister. Her feelings prompted me to recount what I had experienced growing up with my own sister over the course of twenty some odd years.

We weren’t best friends, not even close. I recall arguments that ended in hair pulling, unforgivable name calling and, in some instances, fist fights. We didn’t spend time together watching Sex and the City, painting our toe nails or swapping 90s apparel (my Converse shoes were no replacement for her platform heels). In truth, the feelings I had towards my big sister were quite conflicting. In many ways I disliked her but in other ways I looked up to her and longed to be a larger part of her interesting life.

My sister was somewhat of an anomaly in a first generation South Asian household. She wasn’t studious, didn’t really listen to our parents, was extremely free-spirited, essentially, my older sister was far from conventional. While most of us were being subdued by our parents with talks of so and so’s daughter becoming or marrying a doctor, she was busy defying the norm. As an aspiring singer with a universal beauty her appeal was widespread. We’d go to parties organized by our parents’ friends and it wasn’t only the guys that were fighting for her attention, the girls seemed smitten as well. Often, my own best friends were guilty of this not so discreet admiration. It was undeniably annoying but insightful at the same time. I learned so much about human nature through being my sister’s sibling and when I was done sitting in the shadows I stepped out a more intelligent and aware person.

Somewhere around the time I began university, I had an epiphany. While observing a crowd of drunkards at a party one night, both men and women all vying for the attention of the seemingly beautiful it occurred to me that what appeared to be a mass of idiots behaving senselessly all in the name of ego was actually a group of intelligent well-rounded beings looking for self-assurance. These were individuals who I knew personally and who were great in their own ways yet didn’t seem to know it. As cliché as it sounds, the fact is that each one of us has something to offer someone else and while it’s typical to get lost in what seems like the unattainable exquisiteness of others, often we ourselves are being revered without necessarily knowing about it. Indeed this revelation took some time to occur. In my most formative years, like with many girls, I wasn’t surrounded by particularly supportive friends out of home and at home I was constantly comparing myself to big sis. I was struggling to figure out who I was, where I belonged and, mostly, what my value was. That night, I left the party  promising myself that I would no longer seek the approval of others, that I wouldn’t calculate my self-worth based on the attention I got from the masses and how it compared to my sister.

It was this truth that led me to meet my husband at a friend’s get together. He appeared to be the only person in a crowded room that didn’t seem distracted by those who took up a lot of space. He was less interested in the “stars” and more involved with getting to know those who he engaged in conversations with. His elusive presence coupled with a cap that read Unemployed Musician stood out to me more than it ever would have and once we spoke we never stopped.

Yes, growing up alongside my sister wasn’t always easy but in the long run, it taught me a lot about what I had to offer. I wasn’t all the things she was but she also wasn’t all the things I was.  We learned from each other and became better for it. Today, my feelings are of complete and utter appreciation for having her in my life. As much as child bearing and parenting can be difficult, my older sister is the reason I’d like to give my daughter a sibling…one day ;).

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