Support for all members of special needs families

Siblings without Rivalry

sibs april 2017

When we were growing up we had a 1978 Chevy Impala station wagon. It was pale yellow, huge, had rear wheel drive, and felt like sailing a boat over the road. We – my parents, brother, two sisters, and I – took many family road trips in it across the western United States. Those of us riding in the “way back” (the third row seat that faced backwards) often got carsick. There was no official nickname for the car, but I called it The Beast. I think at some point we all learned to drive in it. It was one of the first things, aside from going to church every Sunday and having the same wacky parents, that my siblings and I all experienced together.

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I am the eldest of four children raised in a strict (yes, Mom, it was) Catholic home. My brother is two years younger than I am, and my sisters are eight and ten years younger. I helped take care of them when they were little – changed their diapers, rocked them, carried them around like baby dolls.

When I was fourteen, something happened on our mom’s side of the family. We didn’t understand it (in fact I don’t think we do even now), but ultimately our mom and our aunt stopped communicating, and we couldn’t see our four cousins anymore. It was a very sad thing, and I don’t even recall how it was explained to us then. Our mom taught us to love and care for each other. But that family rift, which lasted over two decades, taught us, perhaps subconsciously: We didn’t ever want that to happen to us.

Fast forward to my late twenties: By then my sisters were away at college, I was a single mom of two little boys, our brother lived 700 miles away, and we would all email each other and talk about our very different lives. One sister was studying forestry and living abroad in Mexico, the other one was studying sociology and video production in Portland, Oregon. I had recently gone through a painful divorce and both of my sons had special needs. My brother was living in Los Angeles sharing an apartment with our dad (our parents divorced at the same time I did). There was no texting (and I don’t think any of us had cell phones yet), so email was a good way to keep in touch. I printed and saved a lot of them.

Throughout our adulthood it’s unfortunately seldom that all four of us can be together at once, and we treasure those times. At some point we discovered that we all love wine and travel (probably because of spending many summer vacations in The Beast). Some of our favorite reunions involve wine tasting and talking about our latest trips. Two of us live in southern Oregon and the other two in Los Angeles. We get together whenever we can – baby showers, river rafting trips, graduations, weddings, our mother’s 60th birthday, and our father’s funeral. Good and bad, we are there for each other.

We all went down our own paths as far as religion and politics are concerned; somehow those issues usually don’t come up the few times we’re able to visit. We not only respect our differences (including careers and personalities), we embrace them because they are part of these individuals we love and cherish and couldn’t imagine not having in our lives. There is no passive-aggressive communication, no jealousy, no disparaging remarks. We might laugh a little about our shortcomings, or in mild exasperation – and concern – wonder why someone isn’t doing what we would do if we were in that situation. But from that sad family rift we learned to appreciate each other for who we are and to hold on no matter what.

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Our father’s funeral was six years ago, and our mother and aunt both attended. At one point our aunt approached her and I don’t know what was said, but a moment later they were embracing and crying. I choked back a sob as I realized that through his death our father had reunited our family. We see our aunt, uncle, and cousins as often as we can, making up for lost time. And our mom and her sister have never been closer.



12 thoughts on “Siblings without Rivalry”

  • That was a beautiful story,Tanya! I have vague memories of “The Beast”. Do you remember our two-tone green Buick…oh boy, I’ll always remember Sundays after church, listening to K-ROQ. :). I’m so happy to hear you have all stayed close. The same applies to the four of us. Miss you, my friend!

    • I remember that, Ann! I particularly remember how your brothers liked Depeche Mode at that time. Hope you’re all doing well!

    • Yes, the Buick! I still have that old-fashioned selfie that David took with my camera when the three of us were crammed in the front. I miss you too, Ann! Hopefully we can get together again soon.

  • Lovely! It’s sad that it often takes a death to bring people back together, but I’m glad you are making up for that lost time.

    • Thank you, Carrie. It is definitely wonderful that we were able to reconnect. I know my dad is happy about that!

  • This is an absolutely beautiful and touching story. Some all should read. Love to you and your loves.

    • Thanks, Erin! I appreciate your support of my writing, and I’m glad it resonated with you and so many others.

  • Ah, that old Chevy Impala station wagon! I finally got used to riding backwards in it, which is helpful to this day as many times I have to ride the subway going backwards to and from work. My one complaint riding in it on family road trips is that Mom and Dad were notoriously stingy about putting on the air conditioner! Other than that, it was a great time to bond and part of why I love road trips to this day. I’m so glad to be close with all my siblings! Great writing, Tanya!

    • Ah, I forgot to mention the scant air conditioner use. Made it all the more beastly. Glad you liked the post, Lex!

  • Such a lovely story about us and our sibling relationship! And as the youngest, I do want to confirm that YES, we ALL learned to drive in that giant, beastly yellow station wagon!

    • Anastasia, I thought so! After learning to drive that thing I never felt nervous about driving U-Hauls or any other vehicles, for that matter. So at least there’s that 🙂

  • What a beautiful post! I love the combination of nostalgia and such deep and thoughtful observations. I, too, am the oldest of three sisters, and there’s ten years difference between the baby and me! Despite fighting a lot with the sister who’s just two years younger, the three of us are wonderfully close now and find that texting “saves” us when we need to kvetch about our parents. We all share the same sense of humor, so these texts are often hilarious. Thanks for this really great post — I hope you are well, Tanya!

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