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Guest Posts, Siblings, sisters

The Things I’d Tell Her

December 12, 2020
sisters

By Christine Meade

My sister is moving with her husband and my twin toddler nephews to North Carolina in two weeks. That’s 811 miles away from her family of origin. They’re moving during a pandemic and only four months after I gave birth to my first son and I want it to be about me and tell them not to leave, but I know that’s not how this works. I’m dreading the day–the one when we’ll have to say goodbye–and the ugly tears I’ll cry. I wanted her to have the chance to fall in love with my son as much as I did with hers.

When my grandmother and her sister–Rita and Ruth–bought their first homes in Somerville, MA, with their WWII vet husbands in the fifties, they found two-family, white houses that mirrored each other on the same street. They each had a slew of kids who grew up as close as siblings. They would spend hours chatting on the phone to one another just across the road, giggling with the coiled phone cord wrapped around a finger when they couldn’t be together in person. They only wore heels when out walking, pushing their prams and chatting. One time, a drunk man dangled out a second floor window and shot at them as they brought their kids for a walk. When I imagine this, I picture their heels first–stilettos in a bright green color–panty-hosed knees bent ducking behind a car with their children huddled like ducklings around them. No one was hurt, and they made the newspaper.

The grandmother I knew had toes that were curled and feet curved with bunions. She always wore stockings with slippers in the house. It’s from wearing those heels, she’d say, without a hint of regret. She lived across from her sister until she passed away in 2007.

When my sister was little, I had her drink out of the dog bowl on the floor when we played “dog.” I had her squirmy body sit through rigorous school lessons that she was far too young to understand when we played “school” and I, as teacher, would get frustrated when she’d get bored and drop out. She could only read my books if she used the check-out system and library card I had created for her. I bribed her to do things by offering to “be her best buddy” when she was little, which she couldn’t refuse. She followed me around and copied what I said and wore and wanted to be until she was too old to get away with it. In a home video we found recently of the two of us as little kids in matching Minnie Mouse shirts before our brother came along, I told her “I loved you even when you were ugly.”

And then we got to high school and discovered the joys of having a close sister friend. We were three grades apart and we’d steal each other’s clothes and walk the hallways together, looking nothing alike, but liking the way “The Meade Sisters” sounded on other people’s tongues. It’s hard to feel lonely when you’re part of a team–a team that you can never opt not to play for. We were the funniest people we knew. Our family started referring to us as Rita and Ruth.

I went to college and moved to San Diego and then San Francisco and spent the better part of my twenties in California and I wonder now if this is how she felt to be the sister that stayed behind. If it’s what I’ll feel when she’s gone, except maybe worse, because the missing extends beyond her to the two little boys she created who have big eyes and big foreheads and call me Nini.

While in California, we’d talk on the phone and call each other by our nicknames and she’d visit and I’d take her to the best beach bars and Alcatraz and the Muir Woods. We handmade matching Halloween costumes and danced until we were sweat-slicked and tired. On bad nights, with ex-boyfriends, I’d lie awake in bed until 3 a.m. so it would be 6 a.m. her time and I’d call her for consolation.

When I moved back to Boston we made our own new set of traditions. We’d go to Salem every October for my birthday and get our fortunes read. When we were hungover, we’d order egg sandwiches and watch Blue Crush for the 100th time, a movie we loved because maybe it was a life we imagined for ourselves one day–simple beachside living, surfing, and sisterhood. I read online recently that 2020 is the eighteenth anniversary of Blue Crush, which made me feel old. To celebrate the 2002 film, the movie’s stars met on Zoom, which made me feel sad because maybe that’s what all ocean-loving, free-wheeling sisters have to settle for now–a quick video chat to connect.

As an adult, my sister became a nurse and a wife and then a distance settled between us. She wouldn’t answer my calls, and text responses came through a day too late. She was wrapped up in love’s arms and couldn’t be bothered with the trivialities of others’ day-to-day. I resented her or maybe more so him, but maybe that is love, I thought, since I was single at the time and couldn’t quite remember the flavor of that word in my own mouth. Maybe I’d do the same, I thought. Maybe I’d leave my sister for love. But I didn’t think so.

Then she had the twin boys and her role shifted. She became a mom, this place I knew nothing about. In motherhood, however, she needed me again, if only for the companionship, for a salve to the loneliness, the exhaustion. It’s a circumstance I only now understand, baby in my arms, calling her or my mother multiple times a day just to fill the blank space between feedings and diaper changes. The companionship needed in motherhood goes far beyond a spouse or a partner, I’ve found, but rests in other mothers whose bodies have been torn by the ones they love most. It rests in those who’ve been so stripped of sleep, they need to talk to someone who understands when they don’t have anything at all to say. When I became pregnant, our roles shifted again, and I needed my sister because why did my nipples hurt so much? And was crying this much normal? And would I ever–would he ever–sleep again?

A few months after the birth of her twins, my sister’s husband was deployed for a year and I had her back, all to myself. I got daily video calls and we saw each other a few times a week. I had visions of our boys growing up like brothers, only a year and a half apart, maybe going to the same school. We’d wheel them to the park together in strollers, carrying our iced coffees, and gossiping about the rest of our family. We’d take turns babysitting for the other and share big meals over loud dining room tables, our kids wrestling in the other room like Rita and Ruth’s boys.

Now her husband is back and they are leaving just to try something new. It will be her first time living in a different part of the country and there’s so much that I want to tell her. That it will be harder living that far away from a family as close as ours than she realizes. I remember my first night away after moving, crying quietly on my blow-up mattress, missing my family, the only home I had known for so long. That missing all the birthdays and barbecues and holidays feels isolating in a way you wouldn’t expect. That no matter how nice the place you moved to is–sunshine, beaches, all the promise of happiness–nothing replaces those random Tuesday night dinners around our parents’ kitchen island, drinking good red wine and laughing and eating with your siblings, and feeling, if nothing else, grateful.

And I would tell her, most importantly, that I love her and will miss her.

Christine Meade is a Boston-area writer and editor and first-time parent. She is the author of the award-winning novel “The Way You Burn.” Christine has published articles and essays for Dow Jones Media, The Boston Globe, Writer’s Digest, HuffPost, and GirlTalkHQ. She can be found online here: www.christine-meade.com.

 

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Guest Posts, Siblings

Sisterless

August 29, 2016
sibling

By Erin Mantz

I wake up worrying what will happen if I ever need someone to give me bone marrow or give me a kidney. Someone like a sibling. If faced with a life or death situation, the angst and longing I feel as an only child could strike me even harder.  I am an only child.  But pieces of me, literally and figuratively, are strewn across the state of Illinois in the form of long-lost, lost and almost-never-found half and step brothers and sisters – nine to be exact.

On any given day, one or more are on my mind, though unfortunately, they’re not really in my life.

Growing up, I don’t recall being terribly unhappy because I was an only child with divorced parents. But I did feel like part of my identity may very well be missing. I was sure I should have a sibling, and convinced myself that if only I had a sister, every change I kept going through – parents’ divorces and remarriages, stepfamilies, moves, school changes – I could sail through much more smoothly. All my friends seemed to have busy houses with sisters and brothers flying through. (I was, after all, living in a Chicago neighborhood full of big Catholic and Irish families).  I felt different as I began my early years of elementary school. I was convinced my “only child” status was why.

The winter I turned eight, I got a new pair of lavender roller skates, won an essay contest at my school, and got “siblings.”  With a new stepfather came a package deal: I gained a stepsister four years older, and a stepbrother my age. They moved in with us (a rather unusual arrangement for kids to live with their dad almost full-time, instead of their mom, back the early Eighties), and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was part of a real family. I was never lonely or alone anymore. I couldn’t believe my luck. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Siblings, storytelling

The Memory Keepers

January 15, 2016

By Kelly Garriott Waite

My parents broke the news to my sisters and me one evening after dinner: My mother was having another child. My older sister, understanding our mother to be the Virgin Mary, refused to believe it. But it was true and with four children, we would need more space.

One town north and east, my parents bought forty acres of land we came to call the property. I didn’t consider whose property it had been, nor what memories of the place the previous owners held dear. It was ours now. That was all that mattered.

Weekends, we cleared the woods where our home was to be built, hauling brush and tree limbs to the burn pile, cutting and splitting logs for winter. When we took a break from our work, we wandered, discovering the secrets held by the land. The south field was stubbled with browned corn stalks gripping the soil. In the west field grew, besides corn, a window- and doorless cement building inside of which forgotten coils of thick wire, yellow and red and blue, were hidden by weeds. Where the corn yielded to woods, wild raspberries grew, big as my father’s thumb. A creek trickled through the woods, across which one day we came upon the junk pile, the stuff of life discarded from a long-ago, unknown family who had likely lived on the orchard behind the property. From the junk pile, I found a clear milk bottle from Rand’s Dairy and what my father identified as an ammunition box, from which I tried – and failed – to remove the patina that obscured the copper beneath.

We worked nearly every weekend. We built a barn. We built a house. We built a farm. We learned how to grow our food and preserve the harvest. We cleaned stalls and gathered eggs and nailed up board fencing to wooden posts. On a red wagon whose sides swayed dangerously whenever a tire caught a rut in what used to be the corn field, we learned to bale hay. As we shaped the land to fit our needs, gradually taking it from the property to the farm and, eventually just home, the land shaped us in return; defining our beliefs and becoming the foundation upon which we would build our lives.

As my siblings and I left for college, the barn emptied. My father sold the horses. The butcher loaded the last of the cows and the pigs into his truck. No new chickens appeared to replace those too old to lay eggs. The hayloft would never again house seasonal litters of blind, mewing kittens. My father rented the fields to a local farmer who replanted them in corn. I discarded the ammunition box: Its history held no value for me. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships, Siblings

The Colors of California

January 8, 2016

By Erica Karnes

The winter light flooded through a worn bay window. Our mother’s sheer drapes, tucked behind an easy chair, allowed a white warmth to spill into the room. He was a fit of giggles. Bursts of high-pitched, gleeful shrieking. This was a new game. One that my sister and I, barely one and two years older than him, deemed best played without parents. An abandoned box, still somewhat intact, with stretches of tape across the bottom. Merely “moving assistance” to adults. But to us—to our tiny, bright eyes; our grabby hands and forever-scampering feet; our lower-class Midwest existences and finely tuned imaginations—to us this box was the world.

The coast was clear, and we began.

The baby of the group happily surrendered as we hoisted him in—a complicated task, given that it was as tall as myself. I worked to cut windows out of the sides, for ultimate visibility. Our sister scavenged the room for additional comforts. She swaddled him with pillows, sheets, and as final proof of her selflessness, donated her very own Blankie to the cause—curling it over his shoulders in a cape. I passed him a comic book or three, knowing that while he was too young to read, he’d surely enjoy the pictures.

Settled and comfortable, cozy and complete—when muffled giggles were all that could be heard spilling from our box-turned-car-turned-spaceship—we began our mission. Pulling full-speed along the hardwood floor, circling break-neck around the kitchen table, frantically bouncing through the tiled foyer. We paused at the top of the stairs for dramatic effect. And when he could barely breathe from his toddler belly laughs, we pulled faster. Passing at top speeds through pockets of that brilliant white light, our home’s sputtering heaters the only audible backdrop to our giddy adventures.

25 years later, our roles had reversed. I sat packed into his car, surrounded by his boxed belongings, clutching my own padding for comfort. This time, while there were still plenty of giggles, it was his game. This time, against all my controlling instincts, I was merely along for the 900-mile ride.

“Anal Adventurer!” he shrieked, fist pumping through his Subaru’s sunroof. “Best one yet!” he winked at me, nestled in the backseat, from his rear-view mirror. A smear of jelly lined his cheek, from the haphazard PB&J he slopped together at our last pit stop. “YEAAAAA!” With a couple of friendly shoulder punches, I celebrated his championship. There was only a single rule: for every passing RV, add the word “anal” at the start of its title. As we’d just dipped south of Portland, former contenders “Anal Wildcat” and “Anal Hideout” were delegated to forgotten place-getters. Still grinning, he pulled a cloth tie-die headband from the tower of rubble surrounding him, slicked back his greasy ginger curls, and slammed his foot on the accelerator. I amped up his obscure electro-hypnotic tunes as we gunned it for the mountains. Continue Reading…