Monday, June 05, 2017

Sticks and Stones and Siblings

Sibling relationships rarely change.
I think that when siblings get together, they fall into their old grooves, whether good or bad.
My family, of course, had a shake up when my oldest sister died at 18. I often wonder what our family dynamics might have been like if she were still alive. Would I be as close with my mother or would she be the one to fill that spot?
My younger brother and I are fairly close. He went to the same college that I did and lived just down the hall from me when I was a senior and he was a freshman. When I traveled to France and again to graduate school, we sent each other long letters, confessing all the joy and problems in our lives.

My older brother, well, that's another story. My mom would say that we were too much alike and that's why we didn't get along. Maybe she saw a different brother than I did. As he hit his teen years, he would yell out the window to insult fat girls. Why would anyone do that? Insecurity?
And he was the one who gave me my ultimate embarrassing moment. Yes, it still bothers me to this day. I must have been in 6th or 7th grade, a time when my girlfriends were beginning to notice my cute older brother. We often hung out at the baseball field to watch the boys play. During one game, my brother went to get a drink from the drinking fountain between innings. I walked over and said something to him, something innocuous like, "How's the game going?"
Bent over the drinking fountain, he looked up at me, took a mouthful of water and spit it all over me, soaking my t shirt and jeans.
I can still feel tears pricking my eyes as I write this. I know it's ridiculous, but at that age, I was humiliated.
So we've had a bumpy relationship since then.
Underneath, I believe that we love each other.
He lives in Texas now, which is forever away from Ohio, nearly an 18-hour drive. I see him once a year sometimes. Not at all other years.
This year we saw each other in December for my Dad's 80th birthday celebration. We spent several days together, including his 4th wife who I don't know well, but we all managed to be nice toward each other. (Yes, that is throwing shade at him to comment that it's his 4th wife.)
Then this weekend he flew into Dayton to go to our family reunion on my Mom's side of the family. My parents are visiting from Florida.

When I traveled to Dayton, we planned to celebrate Father's Day with my dad before the reunion.
I hugged both of my brothers and my older brother said, "You still here? When are you going to France?"
I told him we'd just gotten back then said, "Oh, you mean when are we moving? Are you going to come visit us?"
"No, I'm not going to visit."
"Oh, you just want me gone," I laughed.
I didn't think about it the rest of the visit, but as I drove home last night, I wondered why he cares if I'm here or in France. Only seeing each other once a year isn't that big of a burden for him to bear.
Maybe I misinterpreted his words.
But one of my cousins asked him if he was going to visit me in France and he laughed and said "No." He's a Republican and has disdain for most "socialist" countries.
I guess I'm writing about it because I can feel those same middle-school tears pricking at my eyes. Why does it bother me? I'm not intimidated by him any more? He can't hurt me by spraying water on me.
I guess I always want that relationship that we can't have.
We did have a moment of genuine emotion as we walked across a field toward the parking lot after the family reunion. I said that it was nice of him to visit for the family reunion, that I knew it made Mom happy.
He responded that he's scared to death that every time he sees Dad it might be the last time.
I shared my, whatever it's worth, wisdom, that life isn't about the last moment that we're together but the span of all the times we've shared.
Our family hasn't been the Leave It To Beaver kind of family. My parents divorced when I was three and then remarried each other again when I was 10. My brother was old enough to remember the divorce and be angry at my father when they remarried. Since then though, they've built a good relationship, when they see each other, every year or sometimes twice a  year.
None of us are ever ready to lose our parents, but I guess we need to do what we can to be at peace, knowing that it will happen eventually.
And the same is true of our siblings. I want to be at peace with our relationship, knowing I do, or have done, what I can to be a loving sister, in spite of our differences.

6 comments:

francetaste said...

Paulita, I ache for you. It's inevitable that in a family there will be some who are close and some who are not, but that doesn't make it easier.
My parents died three weeks apart, and in the time leading up to it, I became very, very close to my siblings. One had kind of gone his own way long ago, falling into drugs and alcohol. I think his problems were in part a reaction to my straight-A good-girl act, and we long acted as if we didn't know each other, but he eventually came around. The other two I'd talk to and email with often.
Sadly, since the election, we've fallen apart. The one with substance problems now claims he was abused (it was the opposite; he was the first boy and all his transgressions were waved away) and wants nothing to do with the rest of us. The youngest is very conservative and racist, sexist and homophobic in that wholesome John Wayne/Ponderosa/Father Knows Best way. It has always bugged me, but I set it aside because of how devoted he was to our parents, really waiting on them hand and foot, driving them everywhere, dealing with doctors and insurance. The other one was fairly liberal, but he shocked me by backing Trump and saying he was for deporting immigrants. We didn't speak for about six months after that. Even now, we rarely talk, and when we do, it's only pleasantries. It breaks my heart.

Jeanie said...

You're right -- we're never ready to lose our parents or siblings and unfinished business always leaves deep hurts in the soul. So many families are divided in so many ways -- you are not alone in those challenges. I'm glad you had a moment of being able to be together well, but boy, I sure do understand why those words hurt. Who wouldn't they hurt? Especially after you open your heart and ask/encourage him to visit. Personally, I think it's a little narrow to write off visiting a country simply because you don't like the government. I can't say I'm fond of Russia but if someone in my family moved there, I'd sure go visit and I'd probably have an amazing time lapping up the history and learning more about the people.

Holding your heart close and hoping it will heal from this hurt.

Paulita said...

France taste, I feel for you too. Losing your parents and then this political rift. Thanks for sharing. It helps to know I'm not alone.
Jeannie, you're right that some people are just not open to new experiences. If we were close, maybe he would make the trip. His wife had never been out of Texas until she married him.

Shelagh Kouwenhoven said...

How very sad. Just last week my older brother flew into Vancouver early so he could spend a few days with us before flying onto Victoria. While here my younger brother from Toronto flew in a early, cancelled his meetings and arranged to meet up and take us all out for dinner. I guess I am a very lucky girl. Recently my husband's uncle died and up to the very day of the funeral I thought we would attend, and at the last moment my hisband said no way. Lots of bad blood that could not be swept away just because someone died. We have a saying that you can not pick your family but you can pick your friends and they in the end become your family.

Just Me said...

Paulita I'm so sorry for your pain and admire your ability to write about it. There are five kids in my family. We've never been very close. The only thing to ever bring us all together was my mother being in a nursing home with Alzheimer's. It was such an unexpected gift. Now she's gone and we've each scattered back to our separate corners. I've been thinking about it a lot lately and hoping I can reach out and rekindle my relationship with each of them, not sure how. Thank you for sharing.

Paulita said...

Shelagh, I'm so happy for you that you have a close relationship with your brothers. It probably made it difficult for you to understand your husband's decision to skip his uncle's funeral. Thanks for sharing.
Just Me, What a beautiful way to think of your mother's illness as something that brought you and your siblings closer together. I hope you make that connection you hope for. And thanks for your empathy. It felt a little personal as I wrote it, but needed to come out.

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