It started in junior high school.
Although Jackie (Seester) and I feuded against each other at home—much to our parents’ dismay—if a fellow student said a bad thing about one of us to the other, look out, they were toast. There was a girl in my class who ranted against Jackie for something. I went nuclear on her, verbally slapping her down. She was astounded and questioned my response with, “You just got done saying she makes you nuts!”
I said, “Yes, she’s my sister and I can say that, but no one else had better.”
A double standard to be sure.
Now, forty years later, this hasn’t much changed.
We can snip at each other, call out our mistakes, offer unsolicited (and unwelcome) advice on what to do and never hesitate to point out when one is making the other crazy.
Scooting the disputes aside, she’s my right arm and I’m hers. I’m a better person because she has chosen to be my BFF and allowed me to pick her as mine. With that kind of connection we’re bound to cross wires occasionally. While we often read the other’s minds and finish sentences before anyone else knows what we’re talking about, there are times when sisterhood goes awry.
We’ve learned over the years to blurt out the slight, acknowledge the point of view, then blessedly go right back to what’s become a normal relationship for us.
However, let someone else do something or say something to remotely hurt Seester’s feelings and my claws are raring to do battle.
Is it coming out of childhood into being adults that makes once battling siblings become best friends? Or was it a conscious choice we made along the way? Is it something our parents did—glad they got to witness the change before leaving us—or are we alone in being responsible for it? Was it the cathartic cleansing coming from The Saga of the Impossibly Skinny Levi Jeans?
We’ve given up trying to suss out how it happened and have settled into the living of it.
Sibling dynamics are complex, influenced by birth order, years between kids, what your parents were doing at the time you were born, and the color of your hair.
What? Wait, you ask: What possible difference does hair color make?
As the sole redhead in a sea of brunettes-to-coal-black, hair made a huge difference. Being red, being so clearly different, defined me beyond personality. The nicknames alone could turn a redhead schizo: blaze, pumpkin, freckled-face-strawberry, red. How many more?
But even with these monikers coming from the likes of Jackie or my slightly younger brother, they never stopped me from wanting to defend my siblings. When the Other One, as a dear uncle referred to the youngest kid in our family, came along eight years after Joey, I did not feel maternal. In fact, she sealed the fate on me ever wanting children—by sheer force of how demanding babies can be. But I did have the sibling protective gear kick in as I looked at that tiny tot and realized: Mess with any of them, mess with me.
Even as I drove my siblings far from sanity instigating this activity or throwing out that far fetched idea, I was still about protecting them—maybe wearing that red hair as a shield of armor?
There were times over the years when I wanted to slap each of them—as I completely admit they wanted to slap me—but let an outsider speak a belittling word to me about them and you’ll launch a battle of epic proportions.
Just. Don’t. Go. There.
Family dynamics, friends, relationships—they can be as complicated or as easy as we want to make them. Conflicts are not fun, even for this woman who loves a good debate.
When you come to each other from a place of love first and disagreement second, when you, particularly, allow God to lead your communication, you are bound to find the words to discuss and to heal—the path to move forward and grow beyond the difficulties. You forge your way to being the defender of each other.
Maybe it’s about being stronger for others than we are for ourselves. We may acquiesce here and there, bending more than we might want to in order to keep the peace, setting aside our defender personalities on behalf of ourselves. Turn to them that other cheek.
But with siblings, it’s entirely different. At fourteen, I see someone pick on my skinny little brother and tell them to back off. At sixteen, my little sister wrecks her blue bicycle and falls over. I want to toss the two wheeler into the ditch and teach that darned bike not to mess with her.
And high school girls being mean to Seester? Forty years later, I’m not sure that gal has forgiven me.
So maybe we do set ourselves aside for better or for worse and only the the champions inside come out when someone needs us to be the defender of them.