Celebrating sisters: Women’s History Month

Celebrating sisters: Women’s History Month

As many of you know from my book Myopia, a memoir, my mother was disabled by an aneurysm at my birth. For the next few years, she was in and out of the hospital for surgeries and forced to take heavy-duty medication that left her sleepy and depressed. My sister was eight years old at the time.

Some sisters would have blamed me. After all, she was only eight and very angry at the loss of the mother she had known before I was born. My mother had graduated first in her class in mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1930s. She was a brilliant and talented woman who was suddenly, overnight, no longer engaged in life.

But instead of trying to get rid of me or ignore me, my sister embraced me. She turned the love my father was too busy to receive, and my mother was unable to receive, into an abundance of love for me. From the very beginning, she shared her life with me, unselfishly.

Sent from the North Pole

I can remember being perhaps four years of age when I still believed in Santa Claus (even though we are Jewish). I was enraptured with Alice In Wonderland, and I so wanted a tea set. I wanted to pretend to have a tea party with all the wonderful characters I imagined from this book. I cannot remember ever wanting something so badly in my early childhood.

I do not remember if it was Christmas morning or one of the nights of Chanukah that my sister informed me, coming in from the chilly outdoors, that she had found a box with my name on it left on the back porch. I do remember how excited I was opening this package, especially when my sister brought to my attention that on the upper lefthand corner of the box it said: Santa Claus, North Pole. It won’t be a surprise for you to learn that inside the box was a miniature Chinese tea set, much like my mother’s set. My sister could not have been more than 12 years old.

A proud mentor, an adoring mentee

The author and her sister read Peter Carey together.

The author and her sister read Peter Carey together.

As we grew, my sister tried to teach me everything she learned in school. She was brilliant, and so my elementary school teachers thought I was a genius. Once I got to junior high, (or middle school as it is known today), my teachers would be thrilled to see my last name and would ask me if I had an older sister. Then they expected me to be a genius! Sometimes I disappointed them, but the expectations were high. The high school gym teacher, however, was quite astonished to find me athletic. Because she’d had my sister in gym class also, her expectations were quite low.

Through my sister’s college and graduate school years, she sent me books from Bryn Mawr College and then Columbia University, where I also visited her. She proudly introduced me to her friends. I never felt in the way.

My sister was my idol. I thought there was nothing she could not do. As we both became adults, she would travel to Manhattan to visit me. We went to art museums, and she introduced me to artists I did not know. Through her, I became enamored of the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky. When I opened my first private practice office in New York, she sent me a book of Kandinsky prints I could frame and hang.

Naturally, as I came into my own, we both had to redefine our relationship. Ironically, as children, she was a curly-haired blonde, and I was born with a mass of black straight hair. But as we get older, we now look like the sisters we are. Beyond sisters, we are the best of friends.

Celebrating all my sisters

On March 13 at the Corrales Community Library, I will be celebrating Women’s History Month with two non-biological sisters and best of friends—novelist Lynn Miller and poet Hilda Raz.

If I had not learned how to be a friend from my sister, if I had not learned from her how to learn and grow from other talented women, I very much doubt that I would be in such distinguished company today. We have all struggled to find our voices, to find our way.

And so, as I celebrate my sister, I also celebrate these incredible women, and all the extraordinary women in my life today. Please be sure to acknowledge the women who have been important to you, not only in March, but always.

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