What is a sibling?
So, I was going to write about culture for this blog but then, Siblings’ Day happened on Sunday (April 10) and a whole bunch of feelings cropped up, so I though I would ruminate about that instead.
One of my new sisters (as my brain calls the maternal half-sisters I met in 2018) is the person who keeps on top of these types things. She posts the birthday and anniversary wishes, the left-handed day celebrations, the sunset pictures, the family reunion announcements, and so forth. This sister is sort of the `bellman` or `town crier` of the family. Thankfully she is an early riser so the rest of us can see her posts and respond accordingly, as if we remembered or were already aware. So when I saw on Facebook that it was National Siblings Day my first thought was, “I wonder which picture of the six of us she will post?”
This led me to wonder what my Happy Siblings Day post would look like on Facebook?
Would it be my brother and I, raised by our parents (adoptive parents if I need to be specific)?
Would it be of me and my maternal half-sister that I met 30 years ago (each of us adopted by different families if I need to be specific)?
Would it be me with my birth father’s other children (paternal half-siblings if I need to be specific)?
Would it be me with my birth mother’s other daughters whom she raised with her husband (maternal half-siblings if I need to be specific)?
Or should I just post a picture of my adult children and wish them a happy Sibling’s Day?
Or should I post a picture of my grandchildren and wish them a happy Sibling’s Day?
See what happens in my adoptee brain? Means nothing to anyone but me, but to me it means a lot!
When you look up the definition of a sibling, you will primarily read that a sibling is one of two or more individuals having one common parent or both parents in common. When I think of a sibling I think of my brother. My brother, the guy who parachuted into our family roughly a year before me and who is 2 1/2 years older me, is probably the only one who I think of as an actual sibling. Not by definition necessarily but by experience. My brother is the one who helped me when my boot got stuck in the snow, and the one who laughed at me when I got my boot stuck in the snow, and who threatened, “The next time you get your boot stuck in the snow I’m leaving you there!!” (After the 5th time of saving me that day likely.) Then he did leave me there once, I called and called his name, then eventually walked the block to our house in one boot and one sock foot. I put on the waterworks about his desertion of me in the snow covered field. Of course, our parents sent him out for the boot. Funny, that boot always seemed to get wet inside faster than the other one after that day. Hmmmm
I think of my sibling as the brother who could be so mean to me but look out anyone else who might be mean to me. We had each other’s backs. We unlocked the door for each other after curfew. We lied to people about where each other was when that clingy friend called and called. We walked around the lake in the middle of town as a family and he would protect me from those often mean swans. In the same breath he would shove me off the dock just to hear me scream. We did dishes together, climbed trees together, loved and hated each other, often in the same day, sometimes the same hour. But he was and is my brother.
When my brother did a search for his birth relatives I will never forget when he told me all about his birth family members, and all he had learned. But when he said “I have sisters” I can, to this day, remember how my face felt hot and my stomach turned and I thought. “What? I AM YOUR SISTER!” Did they cover for you with mom and dad? Did they put up with your b.s.? Did they run and interrupt our parents into the middle of a house party they were hosting because you were bleeding all over the kitchen from a snowmobile accident? WHO is your SISTER buddy? Those feelings came as quite a shock to me. It took me much longer than it should have to accept that he has sisters other than me, but I take comfort in the fact that I am the only “growing up sister” he has (wink wink).
So, adoptive parents, I invite you to think about this little story when people ask about ‘real’ birth relatives in your children’s lives. I personally feel that being a sibling is about experience, not just biology.
Meeting my maternal birth half-sister was so weird, her name is also Lynne, (having the same name is the topic of a previous blog, “What’s In A Name” if you are interested). She and I had been separated through adoption, both of us having been adopted by different families. She lived in Western Canada and I live in Northern Ontario. At the time we met, I had a newborn at home and was late to the airport to pick her up and was nervous as a cat for the first 2 hours. Had I invited a serial killer into my home and family? We laugh about all that now but it was a tense few hours. The rest of our visit was wonderful. We are so opposite, I love to read, she worked in a university library and hated reading, she loved to play Bingo, I hated it. We don’t even look alike! Oh when we look back now, we can laugh. We have known each other since 1991 and have become truly great friends.
When I met my birth father’s adult children, it was a little complicated. I had not yet met him but while on a business trip, I was going to be in the area where they live (ironically on adoption worker business) and they invited me to come a bit earlier and stay with them for a few days. So, I did. Imagine, being met at the train station by a sister you have never met? I did not expect to feel as overwhelmed as I did. They were all so warm and welcoming. Their children were great. But it all felt surreal. As they talked about being raised by their dad I simply could not visualize my face in the family portrait. I truly enjoyed my time with them and what I learned but felt like an outsider. I don’t feel that way any more and keep in touch in some way with each of them today but it felt, I don’t know, foreign.
Lynne and I never gave up hope of one day finding and meeting our maternal birth half-sisters. In 2018 that is exactly what happened. To help the new sisters know which of us they were talking about they nicknamed us West Lynne and North Lynn. There are four of them and two of us, that made six daughters born to our birth mother. It was just an incredible few days. Looking at each other, looking away, examining the carpet or curtains instead soon turned to laughter and shared stories. Medical conditions in the family soon turned into favourite foods instead. We met their father, to whom our birth mother had been married for 57 years. We spent some time in the family home where they grew up together, and had many laughs. The girls had lost their mom the year before they met us, and they later shared how much they feel I look and sound like her. It had made them uncomfortable initially but that soon wore off. I think Lynne would agree that since 2018 we have each developed different relationships with different sisters, just like I believe would have happened if we had been raised together. Siblings meeting siblings because we were born to the same woman. Siblings now learning how to be sisters to each other.
As you probably know, my youngest half-sibling is Krista Donnelly, the illustrator of our book, What Is Your Story? Let’s talk about adoption and kinship, www.whatisyourstorybook.com. This was a sibling project that turned into a sister project! Krista and I have had the opportunity to learn so much from each other. From her, I learned what it was like to be raised as the baby of the family by our birth mother. Then I learned from her what it was like to find out your mother had given birth to two other girls who were adopted. She learned from me about growing up as an adoptee and what the experience of searching for our mother had been like.
So, what is a sibling? Sorry Alfred Adler for throwing a wrench in your birth order theory www.birthordertheoryadler.com! I honestly feel that your sibling is a person you were raised with and have history with no matter who parented you.
As I have said, I would love to hear your story and if you prefer to share it directly to me and not on this public forum please send it to me in an email firstname.lastname@example.org
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