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Having a sister makes you happier. That was the first line of an essay by Deborah Tannen that I recently read in the New York Times. The essay was called Why Sisterly Chats Make People Happier and was prompted by an article with that first sentence as the headline.
It was also the findings of a study conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University as part of the Flourishing Families project. Research proves it, that sister makes you a happier person, but that's not really news to me.
My sister and I are three years and 705 miles apart. We've been three years apart since the day I was born, but we've only been 705 miles apart--or some variation thereof--since the day she went to college. That was twenty years, three husbands (one hers, two mine), one divorce (mine), three weddings (one hers, two mine) and five children (two hers, three mine) ago. Between us that's more apartments, moving boxes, email addresses and phone numbers than I can remember.
When my first child was born, my sister drove four hours each way on a Sunday just to meet her.
When her first child was born, I packed up my toddler and lugged her through two airports just to spend a weekend with the new baby.
When my second child was born, my sister couldn't come to meet him right away and when her second child was born, I couldn't manage lugging two children on a airplane to visit.
Our twenty years and 705 miles have been filled with periods of long silence and times of intense closeness that has morphed into something in between the two.
It's brought us to a place where we know that we are the only ones who truly understand each other from a historical perspective. My brother-in-law may know my sister better on a day-to-day basis than I do, but I understand why she is who she is and she gets why I am who I am.
We share an upbringing. We have shared memories. We make associations and react to things the same way. Of particular interest to me about the Brigham Young study was that the finding were that having a sister makes you happier as an adolescent. For me that's pretty far from true; it's only as an adult that I've really appreciated my sister.
She's the one I turn to when there's something going on in my family that my husband doesn't completely get. "Call your sister," he says, "She'll understand."
We talk to each other on our cell phones from the parking lots of our children's schools as we wait for the bell to ring. Our conversations are punctuated with phrases like "No kidding, right?" and "Oh my god, I know!"
But no matter what, this time of year I always feel 705 miles apart. Just the other day I mailed off Hanukkah presents for my nephews, feeling sad I won't be able to see them open them or be able to groan with my sister about the completely non-Mom-friendly gifts like marshmallow shooters and noise-making, battery-guzzling toys.
Yes, having a sister makes me happier, but having a sister nearby might be even better. Is that just me? What about the rest of you with sisters? Do you think you'd be happier if you were close in proximity?