Let’s talk siblings

Recently, I started reading George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, the first in the 5-book series.Game of Thrones book.jpg I’m only a hundred pages in and I’ve noticed a few things. 1) Unlike the HBO series, there has not been one mention of boobs (although there are several references to sex but as my husband points out, it’s mentioned and the author moves on quickly as opposed to the show where these scenes are gratuitously drawn out and 2) along these lines, there are some very interesting (and by interesting, I mean puke-inducing) sibling relationships.

Which brings me to the topic of the post: sibs!

I find the sibling relationship to be fascinating probably because there are so many factors that impact the dynamic: birth order, personality, parenting style, ethnicity, just to name a few. I did not grow up in a large family. It was always just my older brother (3 ½ years my senior) and me. We had step-siblings who did not live with us but we only saw them once/week. Not really enough to cultivate a dynamic.

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Our sibling relationship has been a tumultuous one. We got along really well when we were little kids, but once my adorably geeky brother discovered popularity and girls, I was as good as dead to him. As we got older, we got along on and off – mainly off. Finally, a few years ago, my brother decided that he wanted us to have a closer sibling relationship and to my surprise and pleasure, he began to invest in building a relationship with me. This was largely prompted by his desire to spend time with his niece, Margaret, to whom he adores. Regardless of the why, I’m happy that we are finally close and that he’s part of my children’s lives.

I’ve always had a thing for big families. I think this is because when I was in elementary school, a family with seven children moved into the house across the street from us. They had a lot of extended family that was always visiting. My brother and I practically lived at their house. It just seemed like there was always something much more exciting going on at their house and I was drawn to the activity like an insect to light. It was at their house that I fell in love with Korean food. One of the older daughters who I admired a lot taught me how to make kimchi in huge vats. My mouth waters just thinking about it. Reflecting back, my brother and I were there so much we probably should have paid rent. We were the token “white Jewish kids” for sure.

One particular Christmas Eve stands out. As I peered out from my bedroom window with envious eyes into their front family room, I saw them dancing and laughing with their cousins. I wished so much that I was part of their family that night. Our house, in comparison, seemed so lonely and boring. I longed to go over and play with them. But my mom told me that it would be rude to infringe on them at night, especially on Christmas Eve.

My experience with these beloved neighbors convinced me that big families had more fun (yup, I based this perception on one family – sample size = 1 – conducting studies was definitely not in the stars for me). I also deduced that having siblings close in age increased the chances of being close. This set the stage for wanting a big family. When I got married in my early 30’s, I told my husband that I wanted to have five kids.

After I had Margaret, I couldn’t get pregnant for a few years. Then, when I did, I had miscarriage after miscarriage – three in all. It was a very sad and painful time for my husband and me. But I kept the faith and eventually I had my miracle baby with the help of Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction. I became pregnant with my younger daughter who was born almost six years after Margaret. I was almost 40. Not exactly how I’d planned things to happen. My main motivation in wanting to have another baby was that I desperately wanted to give Margaret a sibling. I didn’t care whether that sibling was a boy or a girl. I wanted another girl because I never had a sister. And I always had wanted a sister. I still want one actually. Though I’m pretty sure it’s too late for that.

When Filumena finally came, I worried that she and Margaret would not be close because they were so many years apart. How would they possibly relate to one another at such different stages? It wasn’t like other families that had a few kids in between who could bridge the age gap. My two girls were IT.  So, my husband and I decided to take action.

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So, we brainwash our girls. Daily. Really, we do. We tell them that they are each other’s best friends for life. That no matter how close they will be with another person, they slept on the same epithelial layer for nine months. They drank from the same mammary gland for the first 12 months! They sit on the same toilet 1-3 times per day. Wipe their germs on the same towels! Nobody, even their future husbands or wives will experience that with them (again, this isn’t Game of Thrones.)

Several years ago, one of the siblings from our neighbors across the street divulged that he deliberately only had two kids. Why? Because he didn’t like having to share a room and having so little privacy growing up. Apparently, not all of his siblings remained close with one another. I suppose this makes sense. It takes effort for my brother and I to stay in regular contact and there is only two of us. But there’s something about it that saddens me. If I had come from a big family, I would want to remain close to all of my siblings.

Margaret and Filumena may not always be as close as I hope they will be. But that doesn’t stop me from telling them that when their dad and I are gone one day, they are all they’ve got. I have a feeling they are getting the message though.


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