My Sister-Wife and ME

By ELYSE TYTEL

My sister came to visit for a week and has now been living in my house for two months. Yes, she came that week…the first week of March, after which the world closed down. My husband, my two kids, my dog, my sister and I have all been isolating at home together, and all I can say is, I think polygamists are onto something. Having a “sister-wife” is amazing!

She is a gourmet cook who doesn’t mind doing the grocery shopping (or paying for it), likes to organize things, cleans up after herself, is respectful of personal space, and, as opposed to my husband and kids, enjoys playing Scrabble daily. What more could a woman ask for?

Living with extended family is nothing new for members of “the tribe.” But as Jews moved from the shtetl to cities and eventually the suburbs, we shed more than a family member or two along the way. Today, living with extended family is more the exception than the rule.

My oldest sister has lived in the United States for the past four years. Three of her children live in Toronto, so she visits quite often. When she comes, she often stays with us, as we have plenty of room – and a pool. It’s generally a pleasure. Does she talk on the phone a little too loudly? Yes. Does she offer an unprompted opinion now and then? Yes. But so do my husband and kids. And they don’t cook like she does.

I love my husband and kids, but I have to admit that I am happy to have my sister here during this crazy time. We can relate on so many different levels that I can’t with my spouse or children. Maybe it’s a sister thing, maybe it’s a woman thing, or maybe it’s a mother thing, but she just gets it. Whether it’s dealing with an understandably stressed husband, or the two stir-crazy kids, a knowing glance at the right moment, a small smile or nod lets me know she gets it.

Most of the time we have spent together has been routine. We go for walks, play Scrabble, do yoga, and cook (okay, it’s mostly her). But there are also some unforgettable moments, like the first time I tried to colour her hair. A hilarious debacle resulted in a lot of laughs and a lot of leftover grey! 

Of course, there are times I would like my privacy. Like everyone else, there have been stressful times, arguments, annoyances and outright tantrums. There are times I would have been happy not to have a witness to some of the goings-on in my house. But it’s not like she ever thought we were perfect anyway, right?

If you would have asked me who I would choose for my “desert island” before this pandemic, I’m not sure my older sister would have made the top five. We normally don’t speak every day, like I do with my best friends. But if living together is the true test of compatibility, then maybe I need to rethink my list.

Like many people, I have spent much of the last two months Facetiming, Zooming and Houseparty-ing with family and friends. I am a little surprised by both who has been checking in on a consistent basis and who I am reaching out to first. We prioritize our time even when we have nothing better to do. So much Netflix to stream, so little time.

While we all look forward to when we can socialize again and get together with friends and family I hope that I remember this as a time of strengthening and deepening the relationships that work in my life. It’s really kind of simple: I want to spend my time with the people I care about and who care about me.

And of course, people who can cook like a gourmet chef.


Elyse Tytel is a freelance writer who lives in Toronto with her husband, two children and chocolate labradoodle (and currently, her sister too).