Monday, January 11, 2010

The Ties That Bind

"I don't believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at." ~Maya Angelou

It would seem that family relationships are one thing in life that comes naturally. You are born of the same parents- thrown together in the same toy box for years, and have no choice but to share what there never seems to be enough of.
But, when the toys are put away- the house you grew up in is occupied by strangers- and the frequency of your sharing dwindles down to a mere Christmas card- then family is something that takes work. At that point, it requires purpose and planning in order to keep the ties strong and the lines of love wide open.
I am guilty. I feel most badly about my brothers. I don't know much about their jobs, their concerns, their daily joys, or their dreams. And though I truly love each of their wives, I have not saved a spot in my life to get close enough to them.
I find it difficult to call my brothers, to open up about things- to pull them close like I have my sisters.
Maybe it's because I remember my brothers chasing us around with brooms and bats and mud dabber nests. I vividly recall pulling of hair, the torturing of dolls, and cheating at hide-and-seek. They got the first new bicycles, the first new cars, the biggest pork chops and the least amount of chaperoning.
Wow! Now come to think of it- no wonder we aren't closer! :)

"Family quarrels have a total bitterness unmatched by others. Yet it sometimes happens that they also have a kind of tang, a pleasantness beneath the unpleasantness, based on the tacit understanding that this is not for keeps; that any limb you climb out on will still be there later for you to climb back. " ~Mignon McLaughlin

I grew up with four brothers and four sisters. All from my two humble parents that miraculously raised us in a two bedroom house. (Unless you count the roll-away bed in the furnace room- then that made three.)
I don't know how they managed. No food stamps or public aid or charity. (Unless you count the box of clothes the church brought by twice a year).
Yet, I don't believe there was a single time in my childhood that I felt deprived.
I don't remember feeling cheated- I was certainly never lonely- and I do know I was loved.
My mom and dad didn't fight much.
Oh, there was an occasional argument over money, or us kids, or something unimportant that faded away in ten minutes. They rarely cursed and never drank and I don't remember dad ever being unemployed.
My brothers and sisters were the nucleus of my life then.
They were my toys. My partners.( In crime and at Old Maid). But they were loyal and constant and we were forever connected by an invisible bond.

"The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together. " ~Erma Bombeck

Even the closeness I feel for my sisters is sometimes strained.
For years, we each had our young children to take care of- a family of our own to raise- a house to keep and a life to build. It wasn't until my eldest sister Barb was about to turn 50, that we suddenly realized that time had passed and there was a gap growing between us.
We always said that Mom had been the glue that kept the family together. So when she died, we had to make our own glue- our own way of staying attached.
Sister Weekends were invented out of this strange need to touch. To connect. To keep one another within view.
We spent the weekend scouting yard sales and flea markets, going to the mall, playing board games and sharing photographs. We laughed and talked and shared stories of our families. We reminisced, we cried, and we pulled our hearts closer.
About ten years later, Barb died.
And we realized that we had waited too long. That ten- eleven years- was not enough time to get to know her.
Life is short. Don't wait.
Start making the glue- NOW!

"I know some sisters who only see each other on Mother's Day and some who will never speak again. But most are like my sisters and me... linked by volatile love, best friends who make other best friends ever so slightly less best. " ~Patricia Volk

My sister Linda and I were closest. I think that had a lot to do with sharing a bed, a room, clothes, dolls -and a place of escape from our brothers. We were a team, a duo, a pair of gangly girls who loved music and nature and imagination.
Then later, she loved boys. I couldn't quite figure that one out, until I started liking boys. Then it all made perfect sense.
But even after we were both married and living in different towns, we kept communication. We worried about the other. We hoped and prayed and were joyful for each other.
Looking back, there were too many lulls, really. Too much time between letters or phone calls or visits. Time we can never get back. Regrets that cannot be erased.
The only thing we can do now is look forward and pull together.
"Sweet is the voice of a sister in the season of sorrow." ~Benjamin Disraeli
Right now Linda is going through a divorce. Life is hard. Unfair. Empty.
And what can I give her that she can possibly use to make things better?
I keep asking myself that question. I can't know the shoes she's wearing- so how am I to give advice? How can I try to steer her heart when I do not know how much it's broken? How can I tell her that it will get better when she doesn't want to hear it?
All I can do is listen. That's what good sisters do. That is the glue that will keep us together through this family loss.
Sometimes I feel as though I have lost my best friend. Her laughter is rare, her soul is bruised, her focus is only on the past.
But someday I know the sun will shine, the laughter will return, the days will flow
with sweet perfume and her heart will heal.
And I will be right here. Ready to greet her when she comes out of the storm.

"To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each others hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time." ~Clara Ortega

I love my brothers and sisters. They are part of who I am.
But this year I will reach out- even if it's uncomfortable at first. I will open up the lines of communication and cross that family bridge. I will draw them in- to this circle of trust and blood and kindred spirits.
We will make the glue.

"What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life - to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories." ~George Eliot

Today's Five Grateful Things:
1. Siblings
2. Hand lotion
3. Cereal
4. Blogs
5. Diaries