A mother cannot force her daughters to become sisters. She cannot make them be friends or companions or even cohorts in crime. But, if she’s very lucky, they find sisterhood for themselves and have one true ally for life. My daughters did not seem likely candidates for sisterly love. They are as different as night and day, and as contrary as any two girls living under the same roof can possibly manage.
My younger daughter, Laura, is smart, athletic, and good at most everything she tries. But for her, friendships are tricky. When, at seven years old, she was thrust into the world of lunch pals and sleepovers, she struggled to survive.
Catherine, on the other hand, sits at the top of the elementary school pecking order. A bright, popular, and beautiful fifth grader, she is usually surrounded by a bevy of adoring girlfriends. When you are in second grade, a word or nod from a fifth grade girl is the greatest thing that can happen. But Catherine and her friends seldom noticed her sister’s valiant attempts to be noticed.
One hectic morning, while getting ready for school, both girls began begging for a new hairstyle. Sighing, I gathered brushes, combs, and pins and quickly created new looks. I braided Laura’s wispy locks into a snazzy side-braid. I combed Catherine’s shiny black hair into a sleek, French twist. They twirled in front of the mirror, pleased with what I’d done.
Laura bounced out the door, swinging her braid proudly. But at school, one girl pointed at her and whispered to the other girls. Then the girl walked up to Laura and asked in a scathing tone, “What’s with the stinking braid?”
Laura crumbled. After getting permission from her teacher, she went to the bathroom, where she sat and cried in an empty stall. Then she splashed cold water on her face and bravely returned to the classroom—braid intact.
That afternoon, she broke my heart with her sad tale. How could I have sent her out wearing a stinking braid? How could I have set her back in her meager attempts to fit in with the other girls? I fought back my tears as I drove my girls home. Hearing her sister’s sorrow, Catherine sat in stony silence, and as I often do, I wished they had the kind of bond that would allow them to reach out to each other. I barely noticed that Catherine spent more time on the phone than usual that evening.
The next afternoon, when I pulled to the front of the carpool line, I discovered a small miracle had occurred. There stood Laura, surrounded by the smartest, cutest, most popular fifth grade girls. My tiny daughter glowed with utter astonishment as they twirled her around, complimented her, and focused a brilliant light of attention upon her. And, to my amazement, every single one wore a side-braid, exactly like the one Laura had worn the day before. “Ten stinking braids,” I thought, as I tried to swallow the lump lodged in my throat.
“I don’t know what happened!” exclaimed Laura, clambering into the van. “I looked up, and all the girls were wearing my braid.” She grinned all the way home, arms wrapped around skinny knees, reliving her short life’s happiest moment.
I glanced at Catherine in the rearview mirror, and I think she winked at me. I’m not sure.