“What’s it like having so many siblings?”
I have been asked that question countless times in my life, and I almost always respond in the same way. Well, Janet, what’s it like only having one?
How is anyone who has only ever lived their life one way supposed to know precisely how to compare it to a life lived another way? I have always had many siblings. By the time I was old enough to truly be aware of it, there were four of us and another on the way. By many standards, three siblings is “so many,” so I know next to nothing about what it is like.
What is it like?
Loud. Having many siblings is loud. It was always loud. There was always talking and yelling and screaming and singing and laughter. Everywhere. Sometimes simultaneously. There was not much room for silence growing up. We sang so much, a habit garnered from our mother, that there was a strict “no singing at the dinner table” rule that we followed on all days of the year, even holidays. Many of us still sing regularly. Saint Daddy used to comment on my singing about what I was doing. He rarely does anymore. Although, he recently called my toothbrushing song “catchy.” Sunshine often shouts “stop singing!” in my direction.
Violent. We fought. We scuffled on the floor. We threw things at each other and ripped items out of each other’s hands. My oldest sister once, in a fit of rage after I refused to do her chores, cornered me in the kitchen while holding a knife asking why I would not just die. My younger brother once pushed my head into the coffee table and sat on it until I stabbed him in the leg with a fork. A few of us carry scars on our bodies from encounters with one another.
Supportive. We would go to bat for each other over anything. My oldest sister once landed a punch for my second oldest sister. When a girl behind me in the lunch line started making fun of my hair and my oldest sister heard her taunts, she stepped in. “That’s my sister. If you have something to say about her, you can say it to me.” The girl did not say another word. When my almost junior prom date spread a rumor about how “lucky” he was going to get because he knew the girls in my family were “easy,” my brother, who is a year younger than me, let him know his opinion on the matter.
Open. There is literally nothing off limits at a gathering of my siblings. This may be something we also picked up from our parents, but we do not hold back when it comes to topics of discussion. We never did. None of us ever had The Talk because it was all just a fact of life. Now, as adults, we are still very open with each other. I can tell my sisters anything, and it will be okay. I trust them.
Cramped. My parents packed us in places. Mom drove a minivan, we all had assigned seats, and it felt like there was always a sweaty arm pressed against mine. If we took friends somewhere, laws were stretched. I remember sitting on the floor next to the sliding door of that white van with the fake wood panel. There were no seats. It was not safe, but it worked. On the vacations that Dad could hardly afford, the whole family often shared a single standard room, sneaking past hotel staff to sleep two at the head and one at the foot of the double bed for the kids, two on the floor, and a pack and play tucked in the corner.
Hilarious. We have a million funny stories and a hundred thousand jokes. One time, that same brother who confronted my junior prom date spent a month trying every possible combination in an ultimately successful attempt to open up the Master lock on my trunk where I kept my PS1. He wanted the victory almost as much as he wanted the gaming system. At the time, it was an invasion of privacy. Now, it is a humorous anecdote. As a child, he was convinced, as the first boy with three older sisters, that when he reached whatever age I was at the time, he would magically also become female. I would tell him, “You’re right! Whenever you become my age, you will be a girl.” And I would laugh and laugh and laugh.
Lonely. This probably seems surprising. But there were a lot of us, and we splintered off. I had two older sisters and two younger brothers and then three sisters after them, and I felt, at times, cut off from those people. I often felt glossed over and ignored. I have a not so pleasant New Year birthday that was easy to misplace in the commotion that was the holiday season. I noticed my sisters’ joint birthday parties as much as I noticed my delayed presents wrapped in Christmas paper nearly a month (or even longer) after my birthday.
My childhood was a million perfect and imperfect moments. It was tears, struggles, knowing too much too soon, fun, games, fireworks shooting over the sound wall in our backyard, warm tomatoes fresh off the vine, a metal swingset, long bike rides with Dad, extended family get-togethers, sneaking warm Diet Cokes so Mom would not notice and blaming it on my brothers, blood, noise, sun tea, breakfasts with Mom, and lunch at Grandma’s. It was beautiful.
I love my siblings. Each and every one of them. In many ways and for various reasons. I love them for our shared roots and for the branches they have grown. I love them.
We are all very different. It is surprising that eight people raised by the same two people can end up so diverse.
My oldest sister is a mother of two. She was a crazy teenager. She hated the world. She was much older than I was when she was able to name her anxiety. She did the stay at home mom thing, scraping nickels up to be with her boys. She is one of my closest friends. I adore her.
My second oldest sister is a single mother of four. Her oldest has a very rare health impairment, and my sister never stops fighting for her. She works a busy job, on her feet for many hours, to provide for her children as best as she can. She is strong and courageous. She says the most inappropriate things sometimes, and I would not have her any other way.
My first brother dealt with heart issues in his teen years. His long-term girlfriend cheated on him and broke his heart. But he came back from it stronger than ever, marrying a woman who sees his worth. Somehow, despite being the kid who lied about everything, he became incredibly level-headed. He writes wonderful fantasy fiction that impresses me constantly.
My next brother is the father of three amazing children. His oldest was “born in the wrong body,” and his support of my nephew is a work of beauty. He deals with demons of an epic scale sometimes. He allows those demons to eat him alive, and somehow, he manages to come out a victor more often than not.
My next sister is battling demons as well. Her story is unfolding all of the time. I miss her. I may never stop missing her. I will forever remember late night talks on our bunk beds. I will never forget the person she was, and I await the person she will become.
My first teenage sister is wonderful. Like many of us, she carries her ghosts with her. She is trying to find her way. She is kind and empathic. She loves animals and her nieces and nephews. She called Sunshine to talk about her first day of school, and Sunshine loved hearing from her. Her soul has always felt older to me. She will do wonderful things.
My final sister, the baby of the family, is almost always on the edge of something horrible. It put a blockade before her a few times before. She has collapsed. She has given in. And she has risen above. Her heart is battered, but it is not broken. Her fight, what she does, is notable. I do not envy her, but I admire her.
Today, we had a rough day. Modern technology makes it very easy to share with large groups thoughts best kept to ourselves. We fought and we fought hard. There are a lot of us with a lot of opinions and a lot of demons to battle. I often say that mental illness runs deep in my family. It does. We carry many demons. Sometimes, we sic those demons onto the people we love because they will love us anyway in the end. I told Saint Daddy at one point that my hackles were raised. My siblings had triggered my anxiety to the point where I was crying at work and trying to pretend that I was not. I felt berated, belittled, and bedraggled. I wanted salvation in the worst way, so I tried to extricate myself from it, but I was back where I started anyway.
Which makes sense because, as with all parts of my life, I started with them.
I could not imagine my life without these people. I love them with a depth that would hardly have seemed fathomable to my childhood self as I lived a loud, cramped, violent, lonely life.
But now, in my early thirties, I am glad I have them.
“Sisters and brothers are the truest, purest forms of love, family and friendship, knowing when to hold you and when to challenge you, but always being a part of you.” — Carol Ann Albright-Eastman
Thank you for being a part of me.