They sit side by side, their blonde locks sticking up with the static in the air. They leave a trail of hats, winter jackets, gloves and scarfs from the door to the kitchen. I lay their school bags between them and me, a buffer that gives me time to really wake from my nap and pay full attention to what they are saying. I shoo them off to wash up while I steam milk and add a dash of decoction to it. The milk frother buries itself in the creaminess that is full fat milk, whipping up bubbles and turning the beverage a faint brown.
Pattu is back, her face wet, her locks pinned behind her ears. She tells me about something that happened in class, mimicking what she did. It is not very flattering to see this side of my child. I am tempted to admonish, to tell her that it was mean. Instead I walk over to her and sit, my face and hers on level.
“Sister first, Always!”
I make it sound like an adage, a motto, a hook she can summon at will as she thrashes through the jungle that is life creating a path for herself. We go over what happened in class and why she was wrong to belittle her sister in front of their friends.
I am not sure she understood. I am sure there will be plenty such occasions as the two of them grow up and friends will usurp the place of family.
I look back on my life. I look back on times I put friends before family. I look back at the amount of time I spent getting to know friends and pledged an allegiance of a lifetime. It feels quaint and romantic like a walk in the rain or jumping in puddles. The idea is beautiful until you factor in wet clothes and dirty boots, the messy hair and the clothes sticking to your back. The moment fades, the chores remain.
I try and remember my first BFF from school. A girl I stuck to until I moved away to work. We are still in touch. When we meet we share highlights from our lives. We touch on the high notes and leave the rest unsaid. I remember the best friend from work. One I was sure was my soulmate. We rode the friendship train until marriage and a move across the oceans proved an easy excuse for a rift that became a chasm. I think of friends from college with whom I once spent every waking moment with. We wish each other on birthdays and catch up over dinner once every few years.
Friendships are necessary. Family is inevitable.
I wonder if I had spent as much time with my siblings would my life would have been richer for it? I meet them far more often than I meet friends. I feel beholden to them by cords that stretch back to the uterus. I see them in my children. I see myself in theirs.
I think of the future when my three girls are mothers themselves. Whether or not they have a sorority to see them through the rough patches, I hope with my heart that they will be their own circle. One that stretches back to years of running behind each other, screaming matches and sharing clothes. One they can fall back on when friends have fallen by the wayside, when time and distance count for more than intentions. When life hands blows that sometimes needs silence at the end of a phone line. When happiness needs to be shared in the middle of the night and when the loss of parents will bind them like nothing else will.
So, I will tell them often and with conviction. Sisters before friends. Always!