I love my siblings. I say this all the time, but I really mean it; if I wasn’t related to them, I would be friends with them. Although, when I really think about that, it is, of course impossible to actually know, because I know them and they know me in a way that is completely unique to only us and there is no way of knowing ourselves outside of those relationships. So, to say that I would be friends with them if I wasn’t related to them is, I suppose, a bit of a hypothetical. But I digress.
My siblings drive me crazy, of course. It’s not always sunshine and roses. Sometimes we get annoyed with each other and there were definitely epic screaming matches over clothes or the TV remote when we were younger. Sometimes we talk about one to the others, and sometimes there are real, deeply felt feelings of hurt or even betrayal. But, that’s what happens when you really love someone. Conflict is bound to arise, and in order for feelings to be hurt, you have to have skin in the game in the first place. I think it’s safe to say that all of our skin is in this particular game.
What I’ve been learning lately (yes, lately – I guess I’m a slow learner when it comes to some things), is that the relationship and closeness I have with my siblings is actually pretty rare, comparatively. At least, when I think about the conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues over the years. I mean, you hear all the time about people stating that their sister or brother is their best friend. And it’s not that I don’t believe them! Quite the contrary, I think it’s totally natural for siblings to end up being best friends.
What I’m saying is that in our case, which maybe sets us apart a bit, is that there are FOUR of us. The more people you add into the mix, the more complex it gets. There are four very different personalities, four different lives resulting from very different life choices, four different sets of circumstances, sometimes different political, emotional and social outlooks, four very different perspectives and therefore, multiple relationships and sets of dynamics to navigate. Which is not any different than any set of four friends (obviously, people are unique and bring all kinds of things to relationships). The difference, however, is that you choose your friends. Friends come in and out of our lives, and sometimes they last a lifetime. But more often than not, they don’t, and are here for a reason or a season, and life just…happens, and circumstances change, and one day you wake up and realize that you haven’t spoken to so-and-so for 3 years and where has the time gone!?!?
But, that doesn’t happen with siblings. We’re in it for the long haul. We can’t escape each other, even if we wanted to. We are part of the same family, and that is forever. We didn’t choose each other. We were brought into this world by our parents, not knowing who we would turn out to be or what our family would look like in the grand scheme of things.
When I was born, things didn’t seem exactly promising when it came to a certain sibling’s reception of her new baby sister. Sister #2 REALLY wanted a brother. Of course, she couldn’t comprehend in her three and a half year old mind that Mom and Dad had no control over whether or not she would get a brother or a sister. Needless to say, she was pretty disappointed when I arrived.
Regardless, she wasn’t really having it. She wanted a brother and Mom and Dad didn’t deliver. For the first six to twelve months or so of my life, apparently, according to family lore, she basically refused to acknowledge my existence. She wasn’t mean to me, and she certainly never attempted to physically harm me or anything, but for example, if I was crying, she would say to our mother, “Mom, your kid is crying.” Not, “my sister,” not “Angela,” not even “the baby,” but “your kid.” Oh the DISDAIN!!!
It’s all a big joke now, of course, because she came around and we ended up being very, very close. And there is later photographic evidence that, indeed, both my sisters liked having me around.
It had never really dawned on me before, but I realized at some point this summer that my friends always ask me about my siblings. When we get together, after “how are you?” and “what’s new?”, my friends always ask at some point in the conversation specifically, ”how is Big Sister and Sister #2 and Little Brother?”, calling them out by name, individually. My siblings are such a part of my life, they are so rooted in my existence that my friends all know that I will have an update because I talk to and about them all the time. So many of my stories start with “I was talking to [insert sibling’s name] last night…”
All of them have come to stay with me periodically over the years, individually and together, for a specific reason (a concert or event) or just because, and they’re always included in my social circles. I have worked with two of my siblings, and two of them have worked with each other. We all went to the same high school, although there was only ever two of us there at the same time. My brother and I went to the same university and have overlapping friends and years of shared experiences. I’ve vacationed with them, I’ve partied with them, and we hang out whenever we have the chance. When we talk on the phone, it’s usually a 2-plus-hour affair. We text all the time and interact with each other on social media (well, not so much Little Brother because that’s not his jam). The point is we are IN each other’s lives.
I was having a conversation with my best friend Becky last month, and we were chatting about the goings on with my sibs, as we always do, and I think I was expressing some sort of worry (because I’m always sort of worried about all of them in one way or another), and I exclaimed with a bit of exasperation, that it’s exhausting being so invested in my siblings’ lives! And she said something to me that has really stuck with me. She said that I may occasionally feel a little…entangled in my siblings’ lives, and I may worry about them and I may even be preoccupied with their happiness and conversely, their problems, at times, but the flip side to that, is that that means that those relationships are deep and meaningful and real. There is nothing “surface” about my relationships with my sisters and brother. There is no such thing as lip service or even small talk when it comes to interacting with my siblings. I can’t even fathom what it would be like to not speak to one of them, to have a rift so deep that I had to cut them out of my life, for instance. It’s so foreign to me, this idea that my siblings could just live their lives and I would have nothing to do with them and maybe we’d see each other a few times a year at family gatherings, but that it stopped there.
What I realized in that conversation with Becky is that I’m lucky. My relationships with my siblings enrich my life, and those relationships are a really important piece to this Ange-puzzle that is my very being. I really don’t know who I would be without them. I know that sounds like a platitude, but I mean those words in their purest form. My sense of who I am really does come, in large part, from my place in my family and who I am in relation to these three magnificent human beings.
Our parents won’t live forever. That’s the truth. A truth none of us (or anyone, I would imagine) wants to really think about, but the reality is that when they’re gone, we will only have each other. I have to say, I feel very secure and comforted in that knowledge. I’m certain that any of us would do anything for one another, big and small. Anything. Need a co-signer for your bank loan? I got you. Need a kidney? You can have mine. Need some help with your resume? No problem. Need me to pick up the phone at 3 am because you’re going through something and you just need to talk? My phone is fully charged and sitting by my bed.
I hope my parents know that they did an exceptional job of raising us. The fact that we are so close and genuinely like each other, enjoy spending time together, support each other and are so important to each other is a testament to their parenting. They should be very proud of that (thanks Mom and Dad!).
I’m heading to Peterborough for the long weekend, and everyone will be there. My parents, all the siblings, the spouses and the kids. I can’t wait to see everyone. There is something magical that happens when all four of us siblings are together and we settle into that familiar rhythm, that easy banter, the secret language that only brothers and sisters know, that comfortable world where we are our own island of Peterses. Being with them, wherever we are, is home.