The anatomy of siblings.

I once read an article in Time Magazine about the true definition of a “life partner”. When we hear the term “life partner” everyone assumes it’s our significant other when in reality, these people enter our lives well into our years. The true definition of a life partner is a person that is with you from beginning…to end. The only people that truly fulfill that role are….our siblings.

What’s interesting is digging down, to the core of each of us, then peeling away the layers, not unlike an onion to find the middle. Those layers are many and as we peel them away, we find so much that defines us. First of all, it is our genes. Our genetic make-up plays a role in who become. Most assuredly it forms “our mold”, things like our hair, eye and skin color. Also, it can define our personalities.

Of course, our parents are important in molding who we become but generally the relationship we have with them is one of love and guidance. A mother to her son will teach him how to be soft. A dad with his daughter will help her define love, often realizing that her dad was and will always be her “first love”.

But genetics and parents, as important as they are, still could not define wholly “who we become and who we are” as adults. No matter how much we strip away ideas of how we become who we are as adults, questions always remain.

Those questions were more easily answered when bringing into the context the idea that our siblings become the driving force behind the development of our mold as an adult. Our siblings become those people we learn the most from. They are our frenemies, protectors, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, and the objects of our greatest pride. They both instigate and teach us how to resolve conflicts. They teach us what friendships to keep and which to walk away from them. Sisters teach brothers about the complexities of girls; brothers teach sisters about the puzzle of boys.

Comparatively, our spouses arrive late in our lives and our parents leave us far too soon. In the end, our siblings may be the only people we’ll ever know who truly qualify as partners for life as they are with us “for the whole journey”.

I sometimes laugh when I think of my sister Roxy and I. To think that we have the relationship that we do, sort of the co-mothers of our family is ironic in some ways. Today, we are the worriers, the defenders and yes Ally, you’re right, the martyrs. I guess that is a shared trait of us “Cancer” sisters. It’s hard not be when you become “orphans” too soon. Suddenly, even though our parents were far from perfect, we were left without a “center”. Regardless of our childhood dysfunction, our parents and our childhood “home” still provided that “center”. When that changes (seemingly suddenly) and we lost our parents (as young adults), we found ourselves feeling as though we are spinning freely without a Sun and gravity to keep us in orbit.

The part I laugh at is not all of that but instead I remember being so enraged by Rox at times when we were young that I literally almost choked the life out of her (no kidding, and more than once). My brother Lon always came in a saved her. Pulling me off of her and bringing me back to my wits.

To know my sister Rox now you would never know that she could be easily the most annoying, manipulative and conniving little shit as a child. It made me even more mad when my grandma Elsie favored her as a child calling her her “little Susie”. Barf!

Ok, so still not the part I laugh at. Instead the part I laugh at is that now whenever I have a serious issue or concern, she is literally the first person I go to. I ask for her advice. Bounce ideas off of her. Commiserate with her. Value her opinion.

Remember, this is the same person a few decades back I nearly choked the life out of!

My brother Randy taught me what I should look for in a boy. Someone that would be kind and compassionate and that regardless, would love me enough for the two of us, even through the many times I was absorbed in my own dysfunction. He taught me strength and resilience. My “don’t quit” comes from him.

Lon taught me that even when your the under-dog and have everything stacked against you, you persevere. That you can be so ill as a child at one point that we worried we would lose him. That regardless of the problems from that illness, you would walk to school everyday (“uphill both ways in a blizzard”), and then graduate even though school was incredibly difficult. He was Roxy’s savior more than once. And today, he is our protector. (Not quietly) 😉 watching over all of us and keeping tabs on everyone, always.

Dawn, always the peacemaker. She is the true definition of “seeing things from a neutral point of view”. She is calm, collected and sure. She is our researcher, our beacon and in her own way, the Gandhi of our tribe. When my feathers are ruffled, she can calm me every time, and she teaches me often the value in holding my tongue and allowing time to settle in before being “reactive”.

Chad is a lot like our dad was. Stubborn, quiet and contemplative, yet witty and when he finds something funny, laughs a hearty laugh, not unlike dad. Chad has taught me that through the years family (our siblings) should (and do) remain important. Often, he requests that we need to get together as siblings. He often laments it’s not enough. He is right. Once we let that go, it becomes less important and so he keeps us focused on family.

Ally. What doesn’t she teach me? Quietly through the years my youngest sister has somehow become one of my best friends. There is more than a decade between us and as children, she was always there….but she was more just “my baby sister”. Today, she is my confidante, collaborator and co-conspirator in many and all things.

And today, my brother Daren would be celebrating his 57th birthday. I last saw him when I was 15 years old. I remember that “last time” like it were yesterday, he rubbed my head and messed up my hair as he left and said, “see you later kid”. A promise he could not keep. A few days later he was gone. It is probably poetic that my oldest sibling taught me my greatest life lesson and that is that life is short, and nothing is guaranteed and most certainly, nothing is forever. Within that lesson he also taught me that as siblings we must, and do hold tightest to each other, because as siblings we form a bond that is stronger than just “living or being”. With his death, he taught us that absence strengthens our hearts and in that, he reminds us that as our oldest sibling, he walks with us always and he is forever, just “a thought away” and is still our very much ‘alive’ brother.

It’s funny. I feel like I have bragging rights in a way. As the oldest girl, I entered Daren and Randy’s life first. For 49 years, my brothers have been my idols. And then, with my younger siblings, my idol bro’s and I were the first siblings to greet each of them. We changed their diapers. We taught them to tie their shoes. We taught them to protect each other as they walked to school. We taught them how to swear. We taught them how to love. And above all else, we taught them that as siblings, we were, are and will always be stronger than statistics, dysfunction and dogma.

As siblings, we have never been perfect (remember I once tried to choke the life out of Roxy!) but we were, are and will always be the protective buffer for each other that we needed as children, adolescents and as adults to survive and thrive beyond our family upheaval as children.

We had, still do and will always have each others backs. Our oft unstated mantra was that we could beat each other up but no one else could. Even though I tried to choke Roxy, if anyone else tried, they would get the full Anderson arsenal of support. The family “no one touches one of us, unless its us” mantra lived and lives true among us.

Into our “golden years” I imagine that we will find even more to like about one another. I look forward to my sisters getting wrinkles so that I can tease them, because quite obviously they will have already teased me first (I am older). And my brothers, I anticipate more gatherings where they stand around the perimeter lamenting and commiserating that the “crazy sisters” are once again dominating the event (lovingly, of course)!

Lon recently got married. It was a great day! I vastly underestimated the magic of the day that he and his wife Sara had planned. It was the perfect “Lon and Sara” day. Laid-back, low-key, simple and beautiful. The only thing that made this day even better was the fact that every one of us siblings were there. We had fun. We laughed. I remember at one point looking around and thinking, that Joann& dad (Randy and Darens mom) and then Shirley& dad (our mom) made some pretty damn great kids!

Not perfect. More like perfectly imperfect.


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