I don’t have any sisters but I do have 2 sister-friends. These are people I’m really close to, but also really different from. It’s how I imagine a good sister bond to be.
My friend Jude is a sister-friend. One of my favourite things about my town is that she lives in it… just up there, on the other side of the square. She is likely to land on the doorstep while I’m writing this, unannounced and unassuming,with her 2 little boys in tow, handing over some random food products and talking like we were just in the middle of a conversation. Jude loves to go out almost as much as I love to stay home. If you live in my town you’ll have spoken to her, I’m sure. Or been queued behind her in the Post Office as she bonds with the clerk. Or seen her breastfeeding in the hairdressers, maybe held her baby for her while she got her hair washed. Jude doesn’t look like a radical, but she is one the most consistently, authentically ‘herself’ people that I know. Which is a radical act. Especially in these days of small children. Jude is incredibly kind and incredibly, well, random. I cherish some of the ways in which we will be always and forever different, but in lots of other ways I hope to become more like her, when I grow up.
My other sister-friend is Jenny. We lived in joining rooms for a season of life and so we have the kind of friendship that is formed from daily details, from the in-between times and last-thing-at-night, from time spent near and beside, in and out of rooms and on top of each other’s beds.
A decade later Jenny is very good at popping in to our wee house, just as she used to pop into my room back in the day. She isn’t nearby so often of course, but when she is she will send a text and I don’t have to think about the state of the house or the girls or my hair, to say yes, come on round. This is the girl I got to know in our pyjamas, this is my sister-friend, it is taken for granted she will take us as she finds us. But yet…
But yet, I had been finding myself increasingly chirping in with the self-deprecating comments when Jenny came to visit, giving that little Northern Irish laugh we do as I said “I do still wear make-up some days you know”, “I do actually wash my hair”, “I do wear clean clothes… when I go out in public…”. I found myself grumpy that she always called in on our worst days and desperate that she knew this. WE DO BETTER! I LOOK BETTER! Take us as you find us, dear friend, but please know, we aren’t always like this.
And as I grudgingly ‘welcomed’ her into our messy lives I would quickly feel extra gross because she always looked so damn GOOD. She wears nice clothes, which fit properly, and are probably this season. She accessorises and wears scarves in that way that actually looks cool. She has curly hair but you would never ever know because it is always so perfectly straight.
At the end of each visit I would have a list of mental resolutions for self-improvement. I would not go this many days without a shower again. I would put dirty clothes in the laundry and not back into the wardrobe… I was ditching “Oh well they’ll just get dirty again” as a mantra. I would go shopping! I would give away those maternity clothes… almost a year post-baby they were not a good look. I would start all this tomorrow. Because wouldn’t I be a better host if I looked a bit better? Wouldn’t it be more welcoming if I opened the door looking cleaner and shinier? Didn’t I have more to offer than this mad-house?
And then she stunned me by writing this thing about a friend of hers with whom she could truly be herself, with whom she got to do life, “the good, the bad and the ugly”. She could turn up at this house in tracksuit bottoms! She could share sadness, uncertainty, hope, disappointment, celebration and pizza. She said this friend was one of the people who inspired her. And guess what? IT WAS ME! It was THIS HOUSE! It was me with my frizzy hair and ill-fitting clothes and all those dishes in the sink. It was yoghurt-splattered, mashed-banana-smelling, tired US. She felt all the more welcome here, somehow, because of it. She was drawn HERE when she was weary or confused, here where we wear our mess, quite literally, on our sleeves.
She wasn’t coming here to show me her figure-hugging jeans or her new earrings or her blow-dried hair. She was coming here to give me her news and her wonderings and her plans and her inside-self. Somehow, I think, my bad hair days made space for her bad heart days. As we found a place among the mess for 2 cups of tea, she found a place among the mess for herself.
I can’t use a hair-dryer and it’s too long since I used the hoover. I seem to spend extra time in the high-alert, survival phase after a baby. When my to-do list gets too long I can’t do. When I get overwhelmed I lose my mojo. And then I feel like hiding, even from my sister-friends. But I have something to offer. Now. Not post-clean-up. Not when my make-up’s on. Not when the girls are a bit older. I have the good, the bad and the ugly of our lives right now to offer.
And so, as the wise man sings, I will forget my perfect offering. I offer you my mess, and some space for yours too.