Being raised in separate households by two different moms provided my sister and me with two vastly different worlds: intricate family webs and traditions that each of us will never fully know of each other. On our dad's side, however, we've shared every experience since her birth as full-blooded sisters, and we were raised to treat each other as such regardless of only sharing 50 percent of our DNA. Sometimes, people who understand my family tree will try to correct me by adding the word "half" to my sister's title after realizing that I've omitted it indefinitely. And while they are technically correct, in reality they could not be more wrong.
Growing up, when asked if I had any siblings, I would proudly gloat that I was an only child on my mom's side and a big sister on my dad's side. I often referred to it as having "the best of both worlds," since I was able to enjoy the perks of being an only child (i.e. not sharing my toys or my room) and reap the benefits of being an older sister (which, for me, can be summed up in four words: real-life baby doll). I can still remember anxiously awaiting her arrival as my stepmother's belly grew and swooning over the adorable things she would do in her toddler days. I gladly held her hand through her elementary, middle-school, and high-school days and created a sisterhood for us that mirrors perfectly a best friendship. "Half" does not at all describe our impact on each other's lives, so whenever someone tries to correct me by adding it to her title, this is what I feel like telling them.
1. I've known her for her whole life.
From visiting her for the first time in the hospital to watching her walk across the stage at her high-school graduation, I have been a a prominent member of my sister's inner circle (and she's been one in mine) for the entirety of her life. We may not have grown up in the same household as children, but I have been there for her — caring for her, laughing with her, and consoling her — since she took her very first breath and have loved every minute of it. Although we were not raised close in proximity to one another, my sister knew she could lean on me for support in any way at any time, and she continues to do so today.
2. We share a family in all the same ways.
While some may see us as only sharing a father, what they don't see is the intricate web of family members we share in all the same ways. We've grown up laughing and playing with the same cousins, fallen asleep on the same uncles' couches, and gorged ourselves on the same Colombian dishes made with love in our abuela's kitchen. While we may not have grown up celebrating every holiday together, those that were shared were enjoyed in the company of the same extended family and friends. And it goes without saying that the love we have for each other is amplified by the love we share for them.
3. I know her better than (probably) anybody else.
With an eight-year advantage on my sister, it was both my duty and my pleasure to be in charge of her when we were children and make sure she was safe, happy, and full at all times. In assuming responsibility for her, I learned all the things that made my sister special just by taking care of her. I learned about her love for vanilla anything and utter disgust at chocolate from serving her dessert after dinner. I learned her favorite Disney princesses after helping her pick out her clothes for the day, and I heard her speak her first English word when she excitedly squealed "butterfly!" one day in our room at our dad's home. I was one of the first people to know her and be lucky enough to love her.
4. My heart broke and I worried for her when she went through hard times.
As an older sister, I want nothing more than to put a protective shield over my baby sis and protect her from enduring the pain, the heartache, and the anguish that come with growing up. Inevitably, I can't keep her from experiencing painful life events, especially those she experienced in her adolescent and teenage years, and it still breaks my heart every time she lets me in on her pain. Her successes fill my heart and her losses break my heart, which proves that when it comes to her place in my heart, she holds all of it — not just half.
5. I encourage her dreams.
My sister is currently a second-semester freshman in college, which means she is now starting to formulate a life plan for herself and figure out how to best use her passion in the arts to kick-start the career of her dreams. Having gone through the same steps myself just eight years ago, I have volunteered as a soundboard for my sister in her self-discovery, and it has brought me nothing but joy to be able to water her seeds of inspiration and watch them grow through her art and her passions. She inspires me, and she has me locked in for life as her number one fan.
6. I listen to her without judgment and offer advice.
As humans who are prone to making mistakes, it helps to have someone who will hear our secrets and help us navigate them without judgment or persecution. My role as an older sister involves just that. While I wish I could keep my younger sister safe and teach her all of life's lessons by telling her instead of watching her learn them herself, the reality is that she will continue to take risks and needs to know that she will always have someone in her corner to catch her if she falls. If my sister knows she can call me at any hour and tell me anything about her life without fear that I will yell at her or abandon her, then my role as her sister has been fulfilled.
7. Nothing about our love is half.
From the beginning of her life to present-day, I have gushed over, learned about, cared for, and loved my younger sister with my whole heart. At 18 and 26 years old, I find myself still reveling in her belly laughs and admiring her growing creative talents. She is my confidant, my best friend, my real-life baby doll still, and everything I could ask for in a sister. We may only share 50 percent of our DNA, but believe me when I say that there is nothing "half" about our love as sisters. For as long as I'm living I will always make sure she is well-fed, help her during her struggles, encourage her dreams, and never, ever correct myself when I call her my sister.