Friday, February 8, 2013

On being a siblingless-sibling.

I don't really know what it feels like to have a sibling relationship, despite having two brothers, which might not make sense if you didn't have mentally handicapped brothers. It's not like being estranged from a blood sibling, or not getting along, or having different personalities.  It's a completely unique recipe of caretaker-mentality, similar biological age, but a huge gap of mental age that mimics decades of chronological age.  Mimics, but not the same.  As even with a decade or two of chronological age difference, at some point you can catch up and have some peer element.

I'm not saying one is harder or easier or anything qualitative.  It just is.  This is my experience, the only one I know.  

Peer-dynamic is the part missing about my sibling relationships. I think the mix of only-childness, but components of siblinghood, is what makes being a "special-needs sibling" such a complex definition.  

I wouldn't change it. I don't wish it away. There's no internal whining or wistfulness when I think about it.  I don't have a longing or an ache for a sibling relationship, but I do have a curiosity. 

I watch my children play together, talk together at the dinner table, and wonder...deeply and passionately...what that feels like to have someone who shares your blood, your mental abilities, your age, your home.

What does that feel like?  I want to put it in double-italics, underlined and bolded, maybe flashed in neon.  Because in my mind, it tumbles out like a hungry, ravenous begging. 

I want to interview my children along the way.  When they call each other... from college...or as adults cities apart...what will they say to each other?  What do you tell a sibling?  My brothers are barely intelligible on the phone.  I have no concept of calling up a sibling to talk...as a peer...whether to pass on information or anything else.

Being their sister shaped me in incredible, indelible ways.  It gave me a confidence, this feeling like I could do anything...along with a sense of responsibility, like I should do everything I can do.  But it stripped me of any ability to be arrogant about it all, because my mind doesn't belong to me.  I have nothing to do with my ability to construct thoughts and ideas.  My DNA gave it to me, and it could have just as easily taken it away from me.

So there's this crazy concoction of awe and appreciation and profound humility, about something inside of me that doesn't belong to me.  I escaped my genetic coding with a normally-functioning, non-handicapped mind... that gets to read Hemingway and write down thoughts and psychologically probe Mein Kampf with William. All these things I've shoved into my neurons over the years -- they have nothing to do with me.  I was just given a bigger cup to hold it all than my brothers.  I wasn't holding more water because I practiced pouring.

We wonder about raising siblings, Steve and I, because we don't understand it.  He had two much older half-brothers...and while the dynamics are different (they are now peers), we share an understanding of having Official Brothers but feeling like an only child in many ways. We don't always know what to do in our children's sibling-moments, and so we fumble around and hope for the best.  

We gave our children siblings in a tight-cluster of age, and nature gave them closely aligned intellect.  We've moved them from place to place, so they've become bonded as one of the few constants in each others' lives.  

When we were in the Grand Tetons, we took a tour of a tiny one-room cabin where a pair of brothers lived in a harsh Wyoming winter.  The tour guide said, "Who here would want to live in this TINY room with their sibling ALL winter?"  My three children were the only ones among 20 people, adults and children, who raised their hands.  I laugh even now, remembering it.  I remember looking down at their tiny heads and raised-hands, and loving that they had each other.

Yes, I know...I had and have brothers.  I'm not saying I didn't.  I have snapshot-memories of being in head-locks, raiding cabinets of junk food while our parents slept in on Saturdays, and long bike rides with Craig.  In the beginning, too, the differences weren't so vast.  But I kept growing up.  And like Peter Pan, they stayed the same age.  I read Separate Peace while Craig, 2 years younger, kept reading Berenstein Bears.  He still does, for that matter.

I became a peer to my parents instead.  Told them secrets you might normally tell a sibling, came to them for advice.  But then as my mom's mind splintered and dissolved in her last decade of life, from the same dystrophy that splintered my brothers' minds from birth, I became a siblingless-sibling and a motherless-daughter.  

I had brothers, but no peers in my family.  And I had a mom who adored me, but couldn't keep her cognition straight to be an authority figure and guide.  Sentences were jumbled, logic made no sense.  I had to help put on her shoes, because her physical shell was dissolving too.

I'm not really getting to a point. I guess there really isn't one. I have some blended up thoughts about trailblazing elements of parenting -- the attempts to do a good job when there's something you don't really understand.  But mostly, this is just what's on my mind tonight.  



2 comments:

Heidi said...

Sarahbeth - you write so well! Your brothers are great and you know that, yet you are in a unique situation.

I too have unique situation. I have 5 siblings but often was an only child too. My Mom gave 3 girls up for adoption before I was born. When I was 19 one found me. At 20 we found another. We met her a few times then lost all contact for about 10 years. I love them both, but we have complete other families. It is interesting how we are alike. The 3rd girl doesn't want to meet us at all.

I grew up with a brother 5 years older. I lived with him until I was 5, then when I was 9, then on and off until he was 19. On the out times he was in Juvenal detention center. I love him, he is my only brother. He is now in a hospital for the criminally insane and will live out his years there. My step sister Missy is my closest sister. She is 8 years older. But as we grew we are now the same and have a deep connection. My older brother and sister overall adored me and gave me no trouble.

I have 4 kids 4,6,8, & 11. It seems that they either fight all the time at the same time they fiercely love and care for each other. I often look at the m snuggling or playing or fighting and wonder what it is like to have a build in friend like that.

I often wonder how to be a good mom to these great kids.

Sarahbeth said...

Heidi, my goodness -- you can certainly relate to an uncategorizable sibling relationship! I imagine that taught you that love and connection is about choice and commitment, and not just blood ties. I loved what you wrote. And I love THAT you wrote. Thank you. It's always great to hear from you.