I have four biological half sisters and 3 biological half brothers. But I was raised as an only child by my paternal grandparents, who ultimately adopted me when I was in 2nd grade. I grew up only seeing some siblings a few times a year (usually holidays or birthdays), and some not at all, because they had been adopted out of the family. It was just the norm for my life. Being a sister wasn’t an identity I really knew much about. I would talk about having siblings, but I didn’t grow up with that traditional relationship among siblings.
All I knew about being a sister was what I saw from my childhood best friend who lived four houses down the street. She had a sister and mostly they didn’t get along (we were kids, that’s just how it is… now I’m sure they are great friends!) So considering I didn’t have to deal with a crabby little brother or sister, or share my things, or do any other sibling things like that, I figured I had it pretty great!
In 1999, one of my younger siblings moved to Illinois to live with our father. I saw more of her then, but not full-time at first. Sadly, our dad passed away, and my parents (bio grandparents, remember?) begged my sister’s mom to let her finish the school year in Illinois. So she moved in with us. I did not like it. I was 16 and had an 8/9 year old suddenly thrown into my life. We were all grieving. My mom wasn’t able to mother as well as she always had been able to because of her grief, so I ended up taking a surrogate mom role to Hope. I got her up in the mornings for school, made sure her outfits weren’t too outrageously unmatched, took her to school, picked her up from school, helped her practice piano, helped her with her homework, and made sure she was in bed at a reasonable time. This was not what I thought being a sister would be like! It was hard. The circumstances were hard. For everyone.
After the school year, Hope went back home to her mom in Louisiana, and I went back to being an only child. Through the next decade or so she would come stay a few weeks during the summer, but they were really just short visits, and not enough time to form much of a sister bond. As she got older though, an eight year age difference became less of a stark difference and I think we both actually started enjoying each other as people, not just annoying each other as siblings.
The same has rung true for my other much younger siblings… as we have all aged, and as they have become adults, I’ve found more of a connection with them. I never really felt “sister-ly” though. I felt like I didn’t know how to be a sister.
Several years ago, after a traumatic experience where my Poppy (adoptive dad!) nearly died and I witnessed him receiving CPR, I began to see a therapist. Right around this same time, three of my siblings who had been adopted out of the family (and into the same family) reached out to me and other family members. I was over the moon! I had waited probably 20 years for this to happen. I hoped it would and it did! But after finally getting to meet one another again (like for the first time!) I realized I felt like I was lacking somehow. I felt like I didn’t know how to be a sister. Wasn’t I supposed to feel this incredible bond and have these built in best friends? I had all these expectations. I talked about this with my therapist, probably too many times than she would have preferred to hear me talk about it, and I came to the conclusion, with her help, that it was OK that I didn’t know how to be a sister, that there are a lot of different types of relationships, and how things are now isn’t necessarily how they will always be.
Four years ago, my youngest sister, at a very young age, was expecting her first child. Again, I didn’t know how to “be a sister” in this circumstance. I felt like I was lacking, like I missed the day of class that was supposed to teach me all the wisdom that I was supposed to pass on, or show me how to be a good example and leave an impression on my siblings. When my beautiful, perfect baby nephew was born (and I was there to witness it!), I felt something slowly inside me changing though.
It wasn’t overnight, but over time, I felt something awaken in me. This attachment that I’d never felt before. Of course I love all my siblings (even the one I’ve still yet to meet again since he was adopted years ago), but I guess what was lacking was this instinct, this powerful bond that I think I had always wanted from siblings, but never knew how to make happen. And in the last few years, I think I’ve been slowly working on that within myself. I won’t say that I have these amazing BFF relationships with all of my siblings–some of them I still see very rarely, but we try to communicate and keep in touch on a semi-regular basis. And the ones who I have started to become closer with, well that is something pretty awesome.
I’ve gotten the chance to see different milestones in their lives, and be included in them just like a sister would be! The birth of children, moving out of the house and supporting themselves, going to college, and I’m sure one day it will be them getting married. It’s neat to see as they have become adults, some of the traits about myself that I see in them. In Robin, I see independence; in Hannah I see determination; in Hope I see perseverance. In my other siblings I see some of my personality traits too–sense of humor, willingness to help others, creativity, etc. It’s very rewarding.
A couple months ago, one of my sister’s family members reached out to me asking if I could help her straighten her life out. She was living in an environment where there were a lot of addicts, herself included, and that was going to make it very difficult for her to be healthy and successful, and he feared for her life. Initially I thought “Why is he asking me to help? What can I offer?” And eventually the light bulb went off. He is asking me because I am a sister. I am a good sister. I am the glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel for my sister. So Eddie and I took the leap and invited her to come live with us in order for her to get clean and learn how to a successful, productive, happy person. She’s been here two months now, and thanks in part to that, I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of this sister thing.