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Challenge: Raising Siblings

The Mystery of Siblinghood

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It’s always amazed me that siblings raised by the same parents can turn out so differently. I have two sisters - one older, one younger. We all grew up in the same childhood home. A red bi-level with white shutters, cement, steps, and a backyard that was just as much rock as it was grass. My mother hung seasonal flags outside the front door. On windy days, they used to slap against my father’s face as he walked past on his way in from work. He’d swat them away like an annoying bug and mumble expletives under his breath. Our garage door was a shade of white that didn’t quite match the shutters - it used to drive me crazy.

My oldest sister has always been, what’d I’d call, dependable. She was consistent. Got consistent grades in school, participated in a sport each season but never excelled at any one in particular. She was quiet. Fell under the radar. But she always had big ideas. It was her that sat outside on a hot summer day selling lemonade at the bottom of our driveway. She’d sit for hours, with only a handful of customers. My mom insisted she wear sunscreen, a floppy sun hat, sunglasses, and even stuck a beach umbrella beside her in the lawn. My mother worried about her getting sunburned - my sister’s only worry was the ice in her lemonade pitcher melting. “A happy customer will refer a friend.” She was 12. I remember thinking she was strange, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to imitate and be just like her.

My younger sister was the opposite. Always in trouble, didn’t like rules and didn’t seem to care much about what my parents, or any authority figures had to say. I remember her getting kicked out of one daycare for biting. She used to throw full-blown temper tantrums in the aisles of the grocery store when mom wouldn’t buy the cereal she wanted. It was embarrassing. I’d cover my face and walk a few steps away from the commotion - I wasn’t with them.

I guess I fell somewhere in the middle, appropriately enough. I didn’t have the business drive of my older sister but I also wasn’t defiant like my younger sibling. I loved school. I played pretend every chance I got. Lining up my stuffed animals along the couch, I’d hand them each a book, a pencil, and a piece of lined paper - that paper you used in grade school with the wide lines, tan color, and rough texture. I’d give my stuffed animals spelling tests and grades. The good students got stickers. My favorite were the scratch and sniff ones. I always wanted to be a mother. I loved children and recall getting in trouble for picking up younger kids at daycare. “Put her down, Sarah!” The teachers would scold me for carrying around smaller classmates on the playground. But I wanted nothing more than a child on my hip.

About three years ago, I received two very different phone calls from my two very different sisters - both within the same two weeks.

My older sister called for my advice. Though I didn’t know much about what she was asking, I listened. She was looking to open her own business - a breakfast shop that offered gourmet coffees and teas, fancy pastries, and sold items like mugs, teapots, and other small kitchen necessities. Entrepreneurship made me nervous - for my sister, it excited her. She rambled off questions at rapid fire - what should she call the store? What should the hours be? What was a single member LLC versus a partnership? Should she take out a bank loan or use a credit card? I didn’t have the answers to any of her questions, but I envied her drive. Listening to her talk about this project with such passion and vision gave me a feeling of pride. I told her that no matter which path she chose, I knew she’d succeed. She always landed on her feet and I had no doubt this situation would be no different.

I remember hanging up the phone with a smile on my face. I stood in the same spot in my kitchen for a few minutes, my hand still clasping the hard ivory plastic of the phone. I wondered where she got her determination from.

About a week later I got another call, this time from my younger sister and she had very different questions to ask. She was 18 and just found out she was pregnant. My heart instantly broke for her. She was just a baby, how could she possibly be having a baby? Her boyfriend wasn’t my favorite person in the world. An uninspired high school dropout who worked at a gas station part time and had no intentions of attending college or moving out of his parent’s home. They’d only been dating for 7 months. What bothered me most about her phone call wasn’t the news itself, though that was truly upsetting - it was her lackadaisical attitude. I remember her saying things like, “I can keep the baby’s crib in my bedroom, what’s the big deal?” and “Mom will watch it when I find a job.” She seemed unaffected and completely unaware that her entire life as she knew it, was over. I told her I loved her. I told her I’d be there to help her in anyway I could, after all, I was already a mother and knew a thing or two about it. She didn’t welcome my help but didn’t refute it either. That time when I hung up the phone and stood in my kitchen, hand on the plastic ivory receiver, I was in a state of shock and disbelief over my youngest sister’s ignorance. My head and heart hung heavy that day.

And then there’s me. Married to my high school sweetheart, living in a NJ suburb with good schools and friendly neighbors. My daughter’s attend daycare near our home and I work part-time in the local school system. My husband is a FedEx driver and dedicated father. I see my parents weekly for dinners and game nights. My life is everything I could have ever imagined. But I have to laugh at the fact that this life would bore my older sister to tears. And I know my youngest sister will never fully understand the responsibility of motherhood, or adulthood for that matter.

We are three young women, birthed from the same beautiful mother. How did we turn out so different? I guess, perhaps, that’s part of the mystery and wonder of motherhood. Not knowing how your children will develop and grow and what unique characteristics they’ll each possess is part of the adventure. I look at my girls some days and I can already, clearly see their similarities and differences. I will continue to mother them the same - with love, discipline, respect, and encouragement. And I can’t wait to see who they turn out to be!

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