This weekend, I was most fortunate to have a lovely, highly successful family gathering. This was a big deal since I rarely, if ever, host events like this but the new deck was a great opportunity to have everyone arrive on our little patch of earth, eat a lot of food and hang out together in the blissful Spring sunshine.
It went so well. So very well and part of the reason for that was because of my sister. I have two sisters, as you will no doubt know, but this weekend my sister Adele came down from Sydney and hosted this BBQ with me. That I came through it with minimal anxiety and maximum enjoyment is in a sense down to the way we work together and from that experience I want to draw some incredibly valuable lessons.
It’s not that there was much cause for stress, really. I mean, it was a family BBQ. Meat, salads, a nice table setting, plenty of cold drinks to keep everyone lubricated. It’s not that hard. But I don’t do it often and I’m more than capable of doing it, but I’m equally capable of finding reasons to dredge up self doubt and anxiety.
Last week, there was a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald about women and the way they treat each other terribly. It got a lot of coverage and was inspired by a book called Twisted Sisterhood: Unravelling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships. We’ve all seen it. We’ve all experienced it. Women can be truly, devastatingly awful to each other. It starts early. One of my earliest memories of female cruelty is from kindergarten. The girl who was most popular in our class, the girl who always had girls racing to be her partner in group activities, had an amazing ability to utterly destroy someone’s confidence. She knew there was perceived value in her friendship.
Each day at the end of lunch we had to line up in pairs and hold hands as we marched into the classroom. One day, the popular girl singled me out. It was my turn. A light shone on me. She chose me.
The bell rang. Children began to form a line. I ran to her side and reached for her hand.
No. She would not hold my hand. She reached for another girl’s hand instead. She sneered at me. ‘I don’t like you. I’m holding someone else’s hand.’
She was six years old and already knew how to crush the spirit of another girl. Thirty-two years later I still remember that feeling of complete devastation. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t chosen. Does that say more about me than it does about women? Or a bit of both? I think of that girl, whose name, hair, clothes and attitude I still remember with startling clarity and I wonder if she went on to become a good person. Did she learn lessons about what women could do to each other? Did she suffer at the hands of another cruel woman at some point? Or did she continue to be scathing and cruel all her life?
More realistically, she probably turned out to be just like the rest of us. Capable of being cruel one moment and loving the next. I think we can all be that way and we could do well to focus on building each other up, not tearing each other down.
My sister and I weren’t always such good friends. We were competitive in high school, vastly different, not particularly bonded. In our early twenties, life went differently for both of us. She married young; I was at university and living a life unlike hers. She lived overseas for a number of years and we each had a bunch of stuff going on that kept us apart.
Now, in our thirties, we are the very best of friends. Our differences work for us now, not against us and there are more than enough shared and common traits to balance out the differences. Throughout our lives our mother has often said, ‘Friends will come and go but sisters will always remain.’ I take issue with that statement a little because I know plenty of women for whom their relationship with their sisters is anything but ideal, but when it works, when you and your sisters are bonded, then the statement is true. That you came from the same womb, that your earliest memories are entwined, that you can look in the mirror together and see tangible evidence of your blood-ties is powerful in the extreme.
When I felt anxious about all that we needed to do to make this weekend work, Adele was there reminding me that there was no reason to stress. She ran through check lists and menus with me, she worked out the menu and made fun plans with me. She reminded me I didn’t need to clean every crevice of my house.
Most importantly, she helped me create the best cake that’s ever been served at my table. A Black Forest Cake of which we were both immensely proud.
It took us some hours but the effort was worth it and in fact it was about the most fun you could have making a cake. It tasted every bit as good as it looked and was in every way a triumph. Adele decided to make the ganache balls dusted in cocoa to rest on the top and that was a moment of pure inspiration.
At the end of the day we congratulated each other on a great day and a happy, successful family gathering. We did it together.
Women, when we build each other up, celebrate each other’s successes and strive to support each other with kindness and positive action, are amazing. So much can be achieved, including lasting memories, memories which are better than those cutting, nasty memories like the one I carry from the actions of the most popular girl in my class in 1976. It is so great to know that in years to come I’ll look back on that Black Forest Cake as a symbol of what my sister and I could achieve together. I’ll take that over a memory of childhood cruelty any day.
If you’d like to read Adele’s take on the triumph of our cake, you can find it on our shared blog, here.