So, we are getting my son a puppy. My son is the shy type and likes constant companionship so a dog seems like a perfect fit. A boy and his dog. . .you know the stories (not Where the Red Fern Grows or stories like that—the HAPPY stories).
I phoned my sister to tell her the news.
“This is going to be his dog right?” she asked. I sensed a certain skepticism. Perhaps she didn’t think he could handle a dog at nine-years of age.
“Oh yes, we’ve talked about the responsibilities,” I babbled. “He helped select the breed and we picked an ultimate people dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.”
“You’re missing my point,” she replied somewhat impatiently. “How are you going to keep the dog from bonding with YOU? You are such an Alpha. You had better line up a trainer before the puppy even arrives.”
Wow. ‘A trainer for who?’ I was tempted to ask. My son, the puppy, or me? But the question would have been facetious. As soon as the words were out of her mouth and bouncing off the satellite to my mobile phone I knew exactly what my sister meant, and was left wondering why I didn’t see it before. I am a very “in charge” person. Dogs are attracted to dominant people. . If this dog is really going to be my son’s dog we will need some advice on how to get it to bond with my son and see him as the pack leader.
No. I am not going to continue blogging about dogs. I am going to blog about sisters. Because what this story really illustrates (you were wondering, admit it) is one of the driving themes behind my novel, The Sister Queens—our sisters act as mirrors for us; when we forget who we are or when we fool ourselves into thinking we are something we are not, they call us on it.
I am old enough to know myself, but sometimes I like to fool myself into thinking I am more mild-mannered than I am (heck, sometimes, if there’s no mirror around, I forget I don’t look like I did as a girl of sixteen). I need my sister to keep me honest. To her credit, she plays this role with great kindness and delicacy (she is “the nice one” in our dynamic duo, and I am the first to tell people that).
The plain fact is, there aren’t too many people in life you can count on to tell you the unvarnished truth because they have competing interests. Go ahead, ask your husband, “honey does this dress make me look fat?” he knows there is only one right answer (particularly if he wants to keep sleeping with you). I am not saying that sisters can’t have their own agenda’s, but two factors argue in favor of sisters as a source of sound perspective.
First, if we know our sister intimately, we recognize her issues and predispositions (we learned those early so we could push her buttons at will – naughty us). Thus, we can filter whatever our sister tells us through what we know of her personality and are often left with a useful semblance of truth.
Second, the average sister is not just a best friend she’s a rival-in-chief – she wants us to do and be our very best as long as that best is just a modicum less than her best. A sister has no particular reason to butter us up (once we are past the stage where we can drive and she can’t and, therefore, she will refrain from criticizing our boyfriend in order to get a ride to the mall). In fact, whether she is older or younger, our sister gets a tiny little thrill out of those moments where she can (with love of course) “put us in our place.”
So, when my sister calls me an alpha female, she is genuinely trying to be helpful. But at the same time she is compelled to point out how dominant I can be by memories of distant, childhood occasions on which I doubtless rode roughshod over her and didn’t even know I was doing it. She knows my history; she sees my faults; and she is more than happy to hold up a mirror and let me gaze upon them. Thank heavens for that. Better to be told you have lipstick on your teeth (or a bossy personality) by someone who loves you than to walk out into the party of life and embarrass yourself.