Sibling Warfare (or don’t get into a canoe with your older sister)

women in canoeMy sister Janet– four years older – found out about this great outdoor women’s weekend sponsored by the state fish & wildlife department. Over the weekend at a state park, they put on various half-day seminars to teach the basics of skills such as fly fishing, skeet shooting, bird watching, etc.

We made it a foursome, with our oldest sister, and our new sister-in-law. Ah, the new sister-in-law. She showed up with so much stuff, it was staggering. We pooh-poohed her giant inflatable mattress – not the small REI kind that blows up about an inch to keep your hips off the ground; this mattress blew up about half a foot tall. She had to drag the thing all the way down to the bathroom, where she plugged in the pump that screeched so loud, everyone in the tents around us came out to investigate the calamity.

My sisters and I wear little to no makeup, and brought none to a trip for outdoor women. Sister-in-law showed up with a full-on cosmetic case and a giant hair dryer. We wondered, privately, how high maintenance sister-in-law was going to handle the rigors of the weekend.

Turned out, she did swimmingly. She was game for anything and easy to get along with. My “low maintenance” sister Janet was another story. Day one went great. She’d been the best in the class at skeet shooting and I’d gotten a date with our cute survival skills instructor.

It was day two when Janet’s control issues flared up like a bad case of excema. We started the day with an orienteering course – far more complicated than one would think. Janet kept getting the compass readings wrong, while high maintenance sister-in-law kept getting it dead on. Janet and I were great at math but sister-in-law whooped us every time. Janet suddenly wasn’t having any fun. And then I made the mistake of getting into a canoe with her.

She and I in were in one canoe, with my oldest sister and sister-in-law in another. We barely started down the river before Janet started yelling at me. My childhood flashed before my eyes. Sure, she’d always told me what to do. But she was four years older and I’d pretty much gone along. Now we were adults – I had opinions of my own.

I tried it her way at first to keep the peace, but the canoe just went in circles. Janet was so flustered she was red-faced. The fact that the other canoers paddled happily by just made her more angry. I made a suggestion, but she was sure I was the cause of the problem, even though she’d been the one calling the shots.

She struggled desperately to control the canoe and it only mocked her, finally deciding to fling her and I out of the craft altogether. I burst out laughing; Janet floundered, unable to hoist herself back in the canoe. Her face was so red it looked like she wanted to kill someone. I climbed back in the canoe and she grudgingly accepted my help – but it was like I’d upset some order of the universe: Younger sister helping out the older sister. She was not thankful, nor did she regain her sense of humor.

When it came time to choose teams for the final seminar, I embraced my high maintenance sister-in-law and begged her to go with me. My oldest sister gamely partnered with Janet and we ended the weekend with everyone alive. The universe had, however, taken note.