There’s a memory that’s imprinted on my mind – watching my two daughters hold hands for the first time. They were three and two, and we were on holidays in West Cork. We were renting a house in the countryside, and they were exploring the giant garden. As I watched their progress, my three-year-old reached out and took her little sister’s hand. Such a tiny gesture, wrapped in an almost invisible moment, but I remember my throat tightening as I watched from the sidelines, realising for the first time that they might grow up to be friends.
Up to that point, they had interacted, sure, but always as toddler and baby - the older child leading (often obliviously) and the baby following. They had different needs, different naps, different skills, different interests. In fact the only thing they had in common was that they both wanted my attention at the same time. So often they were competitors in the ring – in a crying game that regularly broke my heart.
I listened to stories of siblings playing together, and wondered if mine were different; perhaps they were too close in age to ever be anything but rival contestants – the prize a coveted toy or individual parental attention.  
And indeed, even as I framed the handholding moment, certain it was a turning point, I was (yet again) proved wrong. Five minutes later, they were squabbling over a plastic whistle.  And ten minutes after that, they both wanted the same book. Later that evening, they fought over a cardboard box. And five years on, they still sometimes fight over cardboard boxes.
But something changed too. The fights continued, but became less frequent, while the shared interests evolved and upped their game.
The oldest learned to read, and practiced by reading stories to her little sister. Now both can read, and sometimes when I listen outside their bedroom door, I hear them discussing books they’ve both loved or both hated.
Their early arguments over TV shows and remote controls evolved into a shared interest in mildly inappropriate tween dramas. Sometimes I intervene to find something more suitable, but often I step back and leave them to their giggling conspiracy.
They love experimenting with makeup and stealing mine, delighted with themselves when they arrive downstairs with blusher on their eyelids and lipstick on their cheeks.
They obsess over gymnastics, and though they argue over who has the best cartwheel, they spend happy hours practicing together and coming up with routines.
Sometimes on my way upstairs, I hear, “Shh, she’s coming”, and much as I want to know the secret, my curiosity is outweighed by delight.
They took their time to get here, but it was worth the wait. They’re a gang now. Giggling, hatching plans, linking arms. And as I listen outside their door, I’m transported back to the garden in West Cork and the realisation that sisters truly can be friends.
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