Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sibling Rivalry

There is a reason that the term sibling "rivalry" was coined. From a Darwinian perspective, only the strongest of the litter survive. Nature is just cruel, or maybe just efficient. I come from a family of six kids, me being the oldest, the next four in rapid succession in just seven years (we were a Catholic family in the 50's after all) and then, 16 years from the year I was born, my half-sister arrived. This family planning situation is rife for a schism. And on top of this, we moved to a different town from the neighborhood where I spent most of my childhood years. We moved the year after my dad married his new wife, the year before the youngest child was born.

My youngest sister and I were so far apart in age, that we essentially grew up in different families. I left for college when my she was only two years old. My step-mother used to tell me that it was far easier to raise the five of us older kids than my youngest sister, who spent more than half of her life raised like an only child.

It may be more than coincidence that the oldest and the youngest of the siblings choose to live in other states, both more than a days' drive away from the family home - not exactly easy for once a month weekend visiting with the family. I moved to California, and my sister ended up in North Carolina. We both have lives far different from the siblings who remained in the New England area. I can't speak for North Carolina, but I finally found a place that I really "fit in", as I never had in Connecticut.

Fast forward to holiday time, many years later. Both my youngest sister and I will be "home" for Xmas this year, something that happens rarely, as I usually come home for Thanksgiving and her tradition is to come home at Christmas. All the different personalities, my Dad's six children, his grandkids, and my sibling's spouses, will be here at my Dad's house on Xmas day. There will be food, and gift giving, and conversation. Sparks are likely to fly because this one said that, this one was rude, that one is trying to control the whole family holiday, etc. I know because its started already. I realize that these tensions may be no different than any other family celebrating a major holiday.

But here is the oft-unspoked issue in our family -- the youngest does not feel included as part of the family. She didn't grow up with the older five, who were so close in age that it tightened our natural sibling bonds. She didn't lose her mother to breast cancer as a kid, which made the five of us even tighter in ways that no one who hasn't been through a similar trauma can understand. The youngest didn't grow up in the town which at least the eldest three considered "home" during most of our formative years. And I can't change this; no one can.

We are planning to start a project over this Xmas holiday. At least, I hope we will. I have suggested putting together a family tree. Various members of our sibling clan have started a tree at one time or another, on this scrap of paper or that poster board, now lamenting in a long forgotten drawer. I have often listened to my Dad's stories and to stories from my aunt (his sister), but I never wrote anything down. Now, I think its time. My Dad still remembers the stories very clearly, but he's losing his ability to retrieve specific names. Some of the grandchildren, who are almost not children anymore, are even interested in this project. And now there is software out there that will help you organize your family tree and save it - for free. I hope this project can be a starting point for sharing, a starting point for a common bond between all of us. Yes, my youngest sister is part of a different "tree", but we are all connected at a certain point, and my hope is that contributing to the tree will bring us closer together rather than splitting us further apart. Only time, and an internet-based family tree project, will tell.

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