My six-year-old son and I were talking this week about his three-year-old sister. He was telling me how frustrating he finds her, and I get that. She’s three, after all. But I told him some stories about my own childhood and my own sisters, and while I don’t expect to see a relationship like mine with my younger sister onscreen, it’s a bit surprising that no one ever quite seems to get the feel of my relationship with my older sister, which I feel is more common. I don’t know. Even when siblings are shown, their relationships are more straightforward than I feel real sibling relationships are.
This isn’t even extraordinary circumstances. I’m not talking about my younger children’s relationship with their much older half-sister, whom I gave up for adoption the day after she was born. I’m talking about my relationship with my older sister, Simon and Irene’s relationships with each other, and frankly the sort of sibling relationship I’ve seen in a lot of my friends. It feels as though most shows and movies seem to think that you only feel one way toward your sibling at a time, for one thing.
Even when we were small, I could love and hate my sister at the same time. We never really fought over my mother’s affections—well, for one, I just assumed that our younger sister was my mother’s favourite. I also knew my older sister was less complicated for Mom than I was, so there wasn’t that. I will say there was a certain amount of desitre on my part for other family members to pay more attention to me, but not Mom. Dad might have been different, but he died when we were young.
In movies, there’s always The Smart One, The Pretty One, and so forth. As if every child in the family had a distinct personality that was completely different from every other child in the family. And it’s true that my son is emotional and impulsive, while my daughter is completely mellow most of the time, but other than that, they have a lot of similarities. For one, we were raised by the same mother and share a lot of the same genetics; you’d expect at least a certain similarity.
I keep thinking of things like Sweet Valley High, where the sisters go from being basically the same person—extremely common with pop culture twins, and I grant you I’ve known a set of two of twins like that—to being exact opposites in essentially every way. Or Dirty Dancing, where you’ve got the intelligent, politically aware one and the frivolous, vain one. Or 16 Candles, where—okay, none of the kids are particularly well-drawn as characters except one, and there’s one sibling you could forget entirely. (Hey, do you remember that there’s a third daughter in that family?) But also none of them like one another.
It’s strange to me every time I realize that there’s yet another basic aspect of human life that somehow doesn’t show up in media. Books, some—Beverly Cleary, who turned 104 this week, is particularly adept at it—but seldom in movies and TV. I get that there are some things in the world that scriptwriters have less familiarity with than I, but are they all only children?