Sisters and Brothers
An Only Child and Her Siblings
I didn’t know April 10th was National Sibling Day until my Facebook feed was peppered with sweet photos of brothers and sisters. Awwww. There were my friends posting past childhood photos with their brother or sister. There were my friends posting current family reunion photos of their middle-aged brothers and sisters. And there were my younger friends posting some wonderful old childhood photos of their parents with their sibling(s). It was lovely and fun and I wanted IN on it! But I don’t have a brother or a sister. And of course there were my friends who do have siblings but didn’t post a photo. Hmmm. Not all sibling relationships are Facebook friendly.
I started combing through photos, looking for my own twist on National Sibling Day. Apparently 21% of us are only children. We can be lonely only’s. (Cue sad story to go here.) Or, we can create our surrogate siblings and find the best of what that relationship can be through nurturing our other relationships.
There is my very best friend in the whole world, truly best friends forever, dear Emily. We met at that fragile age of 11, awkwardly and painfully transitioning from girls to teens to young women to married women to moms to middle-aged women. While she did have a brother, she did not have a sister. And so. Sisters we were and are. I’m quite sure we cut our hands and merged our blood in some profound ceremony of our invention. Blood sisters we were and are. Our paths have long gone in different directions. Our personalities are quite distinct. And yet, like “real” sisters, there is a shared history and a shared bond. We know each other’s family secrets. We remember each other’s past. (Yes, that DID happen. No, you’re NOT crazy.) We love each other and support each other, cheering successes and mourning losses.
There is my amazing cousin, dear Elizabeth. The one who was killed at the age of 48 by a drunk driver in 2002. The one I still miss. The only female of my generation in my small family. Older than me, she knew my mother’s family history better than me. Older than me, she offered a window on what being a 20-something woman might be like while I was a sheltered teen in suburbia. I love her and miss her and hold sacred the ties to the others in my small family. She was and is my sister.
When I met my husband, I was fascinated with his siblings and his relationship with them. Like all of ours, his was a dysfunctional family. When his parents divorced, the three siblings relied on each other in a way I have rarely seen. Somewhat poor, somewhat neglected, they had each other. They regale us with their stories of shared adventures, a robbery, a fire (save the bike!), a wayward dog, going to bars for all-you-can-eat, living on one baked potato for a week because they were out of money. (Surely, that is an exaggeration!) The first time I met his brother, I was nervous and wondering if I would recognize him. Of course the second I got off the airplane I realized that the man at the end of the gangway who was the DNA twin of my husband was him. What must it be like to have someone out there who looks like you? They and their dear spouses welcomed me as a sister, which my reserved and lonely only child persona craved. When their parents died, we all gathered to sift through the memories and the artifacts, sharing laughter and tears. It didn’t really matter who got what because there was such closeness between the families. His brother and sister have become my brother and sister. His extended family, my extended family. A tribe with shared memories who would do anything for each other. Who would do anything for each other’s children. Because it is the next generation that consumes us now.
When we married, I knew deep in my soul that I would not have only one child. Two. I had to have two. I imagined that I would have two girls. Two sisters. That seemed the ideal relationship. Two girls to support each other, grow up together, share secrets together. It was the relationship I felt was lacking in my life. So, when the ultrasound indicated that our second child was a boy, I gasped. An alien! I had an alien growing in me! What was I going to do with a boy? What was my daughter going to do with a brother? From the day he was born, he adored her. “Bia! Bia! Bia!” he cried out for her with excitement. We have picture after picture of him looking up at her with love and awe. She, on the other hand, like a normal big sister, tolerates him and his little brother-ness with a mixture of loving watchfulness, nurturance, and a touch of condescending superiority. There was a time, like around a few years ago until about now, where they barely acknowledged each other. I wonder if and when this will change. I pray it does. My niece and nephew are close, but that closeness seems born out of the shared, sad loss of their father. I guess that is what it takes. Shared history. Shared memories. Shared triumphs, but also shared losses. And that takes time and maturity. It will come. When I determined to have more than one child, it was so that neither would be alone. After we are gone. Perhaps that is naïve and impossible, a mother’s desperate hope that her children will be happier than she. After all, we are all alone and on our own path. We all suffer. But surely, having a sibling, either through “real” family or by creating one, helps. I love the brothers and sisters in my life.