While your OG Bossy Dames enjoy some well-earned R&R, previous guest Dame Kerry (aka President for Life of the Margaret H. Willison fan club) and her beloved big sister and cool as hell writer Megan are excited to be stepping in and sistering up the joint!
Easter Celebrations, an unnamed number of years apart. Possible reference to be made to my ruffled socks and Megan’s shoulder pads of destiny that made her look like a tiny secretary.
Did you know that National Sisters’ Day was even a thing? That’s probably because...it’s not, really. A cursory internet search has repeated websites admitting they have no idea where it started, and there isn’t even agreement on where the apostrophe goes! We hadn’t heard of it either, until Margaret approached us about potentially working on an issue as a duo and some random Googling for a theme led us here. And yes, in response to the question you are surely all wondering, there is a WikiHow article on how to celebrate it properly.
However, as actual sisters who actually love and adore each other, we would like to propose our own take on how to celebrate this not-really-a-holiday in some ways that celebrate the very real wonder that is sisterhood.
First, may we humbly present our soror bona fides:
Why having a big sister is the greatest and worth celebrating.
When I was born, Megan was already eleven years old and big sister to two brothers - so she was more than ready for another girl to enter the picture. As far back as I can remember, Megan provoked both admiration and awe in me, as well as being someone I could rely on without question. She was my first babysitter and constant defender. Megan played with my hair and dressed me up when I was little, painting my tiny bitten nails and generally making me feel like a supermodel. I used to watch her do plays at school and wonder if I’d ever be so talented and glamorous. When she left for college, I remember looking out into the hallway that separated our rooms at night and getting a stomach ache from how much I missed her. I regretted sometimes that she was so much older (sorry Meg) than me, because I wanted to hang out with her ALL the time. And colleges at the time apparently frowned on bringing your third grade sister along with you?
In the end though, our difference in age has been a tremendous gift to our relationship. We have never had a phase where we were super competitive with each other, or got into any weird teenager fights, or argued over whose turn it was to borrow the car. We were thrilled when we got to the point where we could borrow each other’s clothes, and only bothered that our adult shoe sizes don’t line up. What I got, instead of someone to grow up with, was someone to help me grow up well. Megan gave impeccable and hilarious advice about school, and guys, and anything else I needed. Megan helped teach me to drive (only getting into a fender bender during one of our lessons, like a true master teacher) ((addition by Megan: a fender bender that was technically a spider’s fault!)) and how to put on makeup. She used to recap for me shows and movies that I wasn’t allowed to watch, and sang me all the songs from Rent when it first opened before getting me the soundtrack. And somewhere along the way, in a graceful big sister way that I could never replicate or properly explain, Megan shifted from being my second mother and personal idol to a peer and a best friend. A few years ago we got the chance to travel to Japan together and it was one of the most special and fun times of my life. It’s crazy to think that the whole reason we’re in each other’s lives is because of genetics — it feels like I would have recognized her as a kindred spirit anywhere.
Why having a younger sister is an unearned gift and a treasure.
I don’t remember when my first brother was born, but my Nana always revelled in telling the story of the moment I learned I was a big sister.
Nana: Megan honey! Wake up! The baby is here!
Tiny me: (rolls over, makes grumpy sleep-noises)
Nana: It’s a boy! You have a brother!
Tiny me: (grunts, unimpressed, rolls away).
Another boy? Ugh. I was OVER IT, man. (Sorry, Mike.) I was already surrounded by four older boy cousins. It was a sister I craved, but I would have to wait a long time for that dream to come to fruition. I was eleven, that painfully awkward age between childhood and teenhood, where everything you do feels wrong. Where you, in general, feel wrong. Then suddenly Karma righted itself and my parents delivered unto me the girl-child for which I’d been longing for over a decade. My little sister. My Kerry Elaine.
I remember it all so clearly because I was old enough to remember EVERYTHING. How I loved that green-eyed, dimple-cheeked baby. I loved holding her and playing with her and I didn’t even mind changing her diapers (Sorry, Kerry), despite the fact my mom used cloth diapers with pins and it was actually kind of terrifying to be honest. I felt a responsibility for this tiny, curly-haired creature, much more so than I had with my brothers who, while also younger, were old enough that they didn’t seem to need me. But Kerry was MY baby (Sorry, Mom) and I was fixated on raising that kid right.
But then an unfortunate thing occurred. I got older. I went to high school. Then college. I discovered boys and friends and theater and did I mention boys? I became distracted from my higher purpose, that of the Big Sister.
But I will never forget the moment that brought me home.
I was college-aged, sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, talking to my girlfriends about some hypothetical wedding that was never going to happen. One of my friends asked off-hand who I’d want my maid of honor to me. “Oh, probably so-and-so” (worth noting: it was my oldest friend and still defacto best non-sister friend). My mother, who I hadn’t even realized had been listening, swooped down on me like an extremely aggrieved bird of prey.
“You will have your SISTER of course!” She said.
“But mom,” I lamely protested. “She’ll be too little!”
My mother’s gaze literally froze me to our old cane-back kitchen chairs. “She will not be so little when you get married, you know. And you only have one sister! She is the only one you will ever have!”
It was in that moment, my narcissistic 19-year-old brain remembered that my mom...is also a Kerry. She is a decade younger than her older sister (and only sibling), and my callous remarks may have stirred some memories of being left out because she was younger. I felt like the worst sister on the planet. I felt lower than low. I felt like I had betrayed my sweet, dimpled sister — and she wasn’t even old enough to realize how much I sucked.
Spoiler alert: Kerry was OBVIOUSLY my maid of honor when I eventually got married. She was fourteen and she was perfect. I won’t hear otherwise, even from her!
Years passed, and something miraculous happened. Somewhere along the way, my Shirley Temple baby sister grew up into this gorgeous, intelligent, empathetic, courageous woman. She was so much more than my little sister. She was my friend.
And even more miraculously, I found myself looking up to her, wishing I could be half as amazing as she had grown up to be. She is a teacher, an advocate, a warrior, a friend. A best friend, as it turned out. One I never earned, never deserved, but was handed to me on a silver platter, all because my parents decided to go for a fourth. And how lucky am I that they did?
SCENE: Two Boston Irish Catholic girls clear their repressed throats and avoid eye contact after saying nice things about each other
Ahem. Anyway! Sisters are great. Sisters by blood, by law, by friendship, by choice. It’s 2019 (which honestly still sounds like a science fiction future type year, to us) and being a woman is still a hard and dangerous thing. But the love and support that we can give to each other, the kinship and community we can find with each other, makes walking through this world easier to do. At our best, we lift each other up and hold each other tight. And who the hell wouldn’t want to celebrate that?
Megan’s Movies to Watch
Popcorn. Blankets. Wine (there is always wine). Movies are, quite frankly, almost better when viewed from the comfort of your own (or your sister’s) couch. Kerry and I have watched many a couch-movie together, from an honest-to-God VHS tape of “Titanic” (throughout which our sainted father repeatedly trolled with the spoiler: “Boat sinks”), to the fateful day she introduced me to “Serenity” and by extension “Firefly” (RIP).
What I’m saying is watching any movie with your sister/sister-like person is a cozy, emotional, roller coaster of a shared experience — especially if you both have a predilection for talking throughout and not annoying each other (which we do). So why not enhance the cozy/emotional factor by queuing up one of these sisterly-themed flicks? You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’ll be better than CATS. (Original CATS, to be clear. Not Uncanny Valley CATS).
1. A League of Their Own
This movie. THIS MOVIE. I have ugly-cried through it so many times, even though I KNOW who’s getting that dreaded letter in the locker room. No crying in baseball my ass.
But this is not just a movie about crying (or baseball), it’s a great example of the Big Sister/Little Sister relationship that manages to touch on all the aspects of sisterhood you expect while deftly avoiding the cliche. Dottie and Kit bounce off each other like so many foul balls off Pesky’s Pole. Dottie, the oldest, is the more serious, level-headed, and practical of the two, while Kit embodies all the wildness of youth: passionate, stubborn, impetuous. The fact they taunt each other with “Mule!” “Nag!” is...not so subtle...but it’s cute and we get it. Dottie is weighted by responsibility, Kit struggles against her sister’s mother-like dominance — a classic Big/Little Sister dynamic. They are also competitive, Kit roiling with ever-growing frustration that her perfect big sister is outshining her at every turn, even (especially) on the field. When Dottie asks that her sister be traded to another team, we’re meant to feel Kit’s outrage, abandonment, and betrayal.
But deep down, Dottie just wants her little sister to shine. So, like a mean momma bird, she pushes her from the nest (aka The Rockford Peaches). Dottie has her own dreams, but she puts them on hold when her husband returns safely from the war. She knows her little sister can actually see both of their dreams to fruition. She steps aside. It’s a wonderful, weird mix of a Big Sister/Mother moment. So many eldest sisters are put into the position of caregiver from a young age, that they become tiny parents despite themselves.
And that last “Mule” “Nag”? Gets me every time. Waterworks. Niagara Falls, baby.
2. Practical Magic
There are two especially great things about this movie, magic aside. One: It’s a rom-com but not really? The Owens Sisters’ family’s true love curse is clearly the big Plot Point, but the meat of the movie is Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock being just the cutest, quirkiest set of sisters that ever was. It doesn’t even matter who’s the oldest (though I *think* it’s Sandy?) — it’s their opposite personalities that make these sisters a treat to watch. Sandra’s introverted Sally just wants to raise her kids and be a normal Muggle while her extroverted, witchy sister Gillian (Kidman) hightails it out of the small, vaguely Puritanical Massachusetts town they were raised in as fast as her fringed boots can take her. But despite their disparate personalities and despite all the years and distance that separate the two, as soon as Gilly climbs through Sally’s window late one night in an hour of need, the intimacy of their sisterhood bubbles over like a, well, cauldron. If for no other reason, watch this movie for that scene alone. They joke, they cry, they cuddle together under a blanket fort. They make fun of each other’s morning breath. It’s a heart-stoppingly lovely moment.
The second great thing about “Practical Magic?” Sally & Gilly are not the only sisters! The Owen girls were raised by their eccentric aunts — played to campy perfection by Stockard Channing and Dianne Weist. These two Elder Witches are also sisters; ones who have seen it all, done it all, and now can sit back and gently annoy each other (all while wearing the most fabulous hats) ‘til death do they part. Their intimacy as sisters is quieter, but no less ironclad. Their relationship is so wickedly subtle when compared to their flailing nieces … the aunts mostly communicate through side eye, raised eyebrows, old sayings, and margaritas.
Bringing together both generations of sisters at the climax of the film beautifully illustrates the strength in womanly bonds, and how one sister’s love can conjure up a whole coven of ladies to defend each other against the darkness.
3. Only You
Another rom-com enters the fray, and a solidly rom-commie one no less. It stars a young Marisa Tomei, a pre-Iron Man RDJ, and literally every highlight of Italy. It’s a true 1990s romantic caper and if you haven’t seen it, DO, because it’s just the right flavor of bubblegum.
But in the midst of all the destiny and meet-cutes, there is a steadfast sister-figure on hand who enables Faith (Tomei) to drop everything, run off to the airport wearing nothing but her wedding dress, and jet off to Italy days before her nuptials chasing a fortune-teller’s prediction from her pre-teenhood. Her sister-in-law Kate (the unflappable Bonnie Hunt) doesn’t try to talk Faith out of this objectively insane decision; she instead packs her a duffle-bag and comes along for the ride. Throughout the film, as we watch Faith hunt for her magical Mr. Right, Kate is there just hovering at her elbow--not to restrain her, but to allow her sister-friend to take all the crazy, impetuous risks she needs while being on call to catch her if she falters. Because sisters know when to let each other make the grand gesture, or the epic mistake, on their own … yet will also always be there to pick up the pieces if (when) it all falls apart.
Faith even takes a break from her Manic Pixie Dreamguy plotline to realize that Kate may be going through some stuff of her own too (with her hubby, Faith’s brother, played to delightful blue collar perfection by Fisher Stevens). It wasn’t necessary for this kind of movie, the give-and-take of sisterly care, which is why Only You made the list.
Bonus: It’s also a sisterly road-trip across Italy, and who doesn’t love that?
4. Lilo & Stitch
Betcha thought we were going to go with Frozen for our animated pick, didn’t ya?
Ok, so basically this movie is your classic Girl and her Alien Dog story. But at its heart, it’s about family.
Lilo and her big sister Nani are the closest pairing to Kerry and myself, age-wise. But unlike our fortunate family, Lilo and Nani have lost both of their parents. Young adult Nani suddenly finds herself thrust into a role she was 100% not ready for: Single Motherhood. Lilo, meanwhile, acts out in every heartbreakingly weird way possible — from biting an insufferable fellow hula student to “punishing” her voodoo stick figure friends by stuffing them in a pickle jar. Nani is scared of failing, of losing her sister, of losing herself. Lilo emphatically declares she liked her sister better as a sister than a mom (while worrying Nani would like Lilo better as a rabbit). Their relationship is anything but idyllic — they fight, they slam doors, they scream into pillows.
And the worst part? Nani nearly loses her. Social services wasn’t playing and neither was Disney; in the real world, young, inexperienced, lower-middle-class Nani probably would have had Lilo taken out of her care. And the scene where she’s meant to tell her baby sister that they can’t live together anymore proves that Nani is indeed both a sister AND a mom. She cuddles Lilo. She sings to Lilo. And in the end, she shields her from the pain of the truth. You see it in Nani’s face. She hasn’t entirely given up. No one can take that crazy child away from her. Ohana means family, okay? And family means no one gets left behind, or forgotten.
(brb, just have to cry forever)
Still got some popcorn left? Try these honorable mentions:
Frozen (yes, ok, fine, it IS a good sister flick too); Sense & Sensibility ; The Holiday; 2016 Ghostbusters
Kerry’s TV Sisterhood Binge:
Team, I love a good tv show binge. I love being able to get cozy with characters and watch them grow and change over time. I loved it more, perhaps, when I was allowed to call it “marathoning” a show, since that made it seem more like an achievement and less like an illness. However! Quality Sister relationships (at least, ones up to our standard) were actually a little hard to find in the TV category!
There’s the Tanner trio on Full House (too cloying and altogether too many lessons learned), the Summers sisters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (complicated by the fact that one of them was actually a supernatural key to destroying the universe, and also pretty annoying), and the Cooper girls of Riverdale, who I really think are going to have a hard time moving past the whole “organ harvesting cult” debacle. Where’s that tender and complicated bond we are looking for, people? Herewith the best of a crop that I think really needs more tending to:
Fleabag & Claire, Fleabag - Enough has been written about Fleabag this year that I (hopefully) don’t need to pitch you too hard on this deeply sad and funny two-season wonder of a show. I will simply say this — yes, Hot Priest was very hot. But when Claire tells her often self-destructive and caustic sister that in fact *she* is the only person she’d run through an airport for? That is the true love story, right there.
Betty & Hilda, Ugly Betty - This is a sticky and complicated sister relationship with two diametrically opposed women who probably wouldn’t have much time for each other if they weren’t related. Their relationship was not always the easiest but, particularly in the hyper dramatic world of Mode Magazine and whatever schemes Vanessa Williams was up to on a given week, the Suarez sisters were always ready to drop any issues between them and go to the mattresses for each other.
Arya & Sansa, Game of Thrones - Look. I know we’re all still mad about how this show ended. I get it. I’m with you in all ways but this: In a show that seemed very often to downright dislike the women it purported to be its heroines, the reunion of the Stark sisters is one long-awaited plot resolution that completely satisfied me. They didn’t get along as children but as women came to understand and respect each other. It also definitely helps that their portrayers, Sophie Turner & Maisie Wililams, clearly worship the hell out of each other. And when they take out Littlefinger?! C’mon now. The power that that has…!
Abbie & Jenny, Sleepy Hollow - Is this a deep cut? It wouldn’t have been if this lovely and weird little horror fantasy show hadn’t gone well off the rails after a genuinely cool first season. And grossly mistreated and underused the handsome American treasure that is John Cho. Still annoyed about it, honestly. Especially since the show gave us the Mills sisters, whose fractured and then mended relationship was grounded and often moving, even in the midst of one of the odder shows I have ever watched. Like, Revolutionary War heroes fighting off witches and an impending Apocalypse in Upstate New York, weird.
I here include a gif, not from Sleepy Hollow, but from Selfie, another tragically cancelled program, but one that better understood the power of John Cho.
Ann & Leslie, Parks & Recreation - Yes, they aren’t real sisters. Yes, their bond is sometimes more like nonsexual life partners than anything else. But anyone who has a sister (or best friend) for whom they would do anything can recognize themselves in Leslie when her love for Ann frequently blows past all logic, reason, or civility. The true magic of a sisterly relationship is the way in which women will fight anyone who dares to denigrate their girl...even the girl themselves.
And in a timely new addition that has only just begun but we REALLY hope sticks around...
El & Max, Stranger Things - Dames, El needed a girlfriend BADLY. When season three started she appeared to have exactly two close relationships: her mustachioed and well-meaning but deeply angry father figure; and her mushroom haired and well-meaning but deeply possessive boyfriend. El’s family and her world is still quite small, despite her powers and abilities, and watching her and Max bond by going to the mall (that most classic of girl movie tropes) is a genuine delight. It was a real source of frustration to me in season two that the two girls never connected (and in fact El brushed off any chance of friendship) — so their laughing, their shopping, their sleepover(!) all felt long overdue and really necessary. It also helped that the two young actresses conveyed a real warmth and fun together, especially to increasingly sentimental and maternal viewers such as myself who are overly invested in El’s emotional growth as a woman.
What did I miss? Normally I’m a huge proponent of the “Don’t @ me” philosophy, but in this case I would actually love to be pointed towards a show that celebrates sisterhood the way it should be!
Looking for something a little more analog? Sister Book (aka Wine) Club Time!
Fun fact: For about three years, Megan, Kerry, and Margaret were actually in a book club together! We met with some other friends at Kerry’s apartment about once a month to drink a great deal of wine and work our way up to admitting we hadn’t finished the book yet. This was irrational since we all love to read, but also pretty inevitable in that we don’t like being told what to read (sub fun fact; each of us currently has a book that we have recommended another one read literally a decade ago but we haven’t gotten around to it yet) ((Megan here: No, I still haven’t read Persuasion yet, Kerry)) (((Kerry: It’s cool, Margaret bought me Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell during the first George W. Bush term, I’m pretty sure))).
The point is, we potentially weren’t the best at being in a book club together, but we all LOVE books. And loving the same ones and yelling about them together is a true pleasure in life. Even without wine. So if your sister is too far away to meld on a couch with you this weekend, can we suggest sending her a book for you two to read together? Bonus - everyone loves getting mail.
Some sister-tastic reading options:
Little Women; Homegoing; Sense & Sensibility*; In Her Shoes; Fangirl; The Color Purple; I Capture the Castle; Summer Sisters**; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
*yes, we’re recommending the book too. We’ll recommend this story in every format we ever come across, most likely
**fun fact, this was the first sexy book Kerry ever read. She and her Mom were at their personal happy place, the New England Mobile Book Fair and confused it for a YA Judy Blume. This led to a number of revelations that junior high Kerry was NOT ready for.
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