I am the oldest child in my family. There are four of us. I am the book-addicted creative artist. My sister is the sensitive sweetheart. One brother is athletic and quiet, and the other is wildly intelligent and witty. When you put us all together, you get INSANITY. (Notice I wrote “INSANITY” in all caps…I meant it.) There is something about growing up with siblings that makes life extraordinary. Let me explain:
A typical Friday night at in my childhood home may have looked like this…
A ten year-old girl, an eight year-old girl, a five year-old boy and a three year-old boy all gather in their basement.
“We’re going to have a dance contest!” the ten year old yells as she twirls around. Angela is very bossy. She has to be when she has younger siblings who need her perpetual guidance and tutelage on how to be awesome. Angela takes her role very seriously…every…single…day.
“Okay everyone, we’ll take turns dancing to the songs on the radio. Everyone gets one whole song. If you don’t like the song that comes on the radio, just wait for the next one, kay? I go first!”
Her hair is in a constant state of frizzy pony tail. She’s on roller-skates, in knee-high striped socks that are rolled down to the cuff of her skates, and there are clanking bracelets stacked one atop another from wrist to elbow on her right arm. She’s wearing a one-piece bathing suit. It’s November.
“That sounds fun, can I be the judge?” the quiet and shy little eight year old girl requests sweetly. She looks up hopeful, but then looks down again, fretful that her big sister will say no and she’ll have to dance in front of everyone. Even though it’s her brothers and sister, she is still reluctant about baring her soul though dance for all of them to see. Christina grows up to be the loudest of the four siblings, but for now, this little eight year old girl is soft, quiet, and sensitive with short tight light-brown curls and big brown eyes.
Meanwhile, the boys immediately start dancing. There is no music on yet. They don’t care. They’re five and three years old. The best part of this scenario is that their big sisters are letting them play and they’re going to get started before anyone changes their minds.
“Look at me, Angela!” yells Petie, the older of the two. “Wook!” imitates the three year old. Steban wants to do whatever his older brother does. These boys are such characters. Petie is a perpetual wearer of his entire baseball uniform…right down to the cup. Steban is in his big brother’s underwear, sporting one of his big brother’s tee-shirts. There is one oversized sock on one foot.
Shaking her head and frowning that the boys are not following her instructions, Angela turns on the music. “Make it Happen” by Mariah Carey comes on and she lets out a whoop! Angela is immediately dance/skating, Petie is ninja chopping the air, Steban is…spinning on his back somehow…
…but Christina is still sitting off to the side, watching everyone dance. She is a sweet girl who was happy if everyone else was happy. She is fearful…shy…but so very fun. She just doesn’t know it yet.
After the song ends, Angela skates over to Christina, does a quick spin on her skates, and sits down. Diana Ross and Lionel Richie begin belting out “Endless Love,” slowing down the mood, but the boys keep dancing like it’s midnight on New Year’s Eve. Angela and Christina laugh at their brother’s tenacious twirl-kicking. It’s become a contest.
“Hey sis, why don’t you want to dance?” Angela asks.
Christina looks down with flushed cheeks and says, “I don’t like it when everyone watches me.”
“Look at me!” yells Petie as if on cue, “Look at me!”
“Meeeeee!” yells Steban as he tries to do a one-handed triple back-flip and lands on Petie instead.
Angela studied her sister’s face. It’s hard being a big sister. For her whole life, there are three things that are her favorite:
1. Her bathing suit.
2. Her roller skates.
3. Her sister.
Angela is not okay with Christina being fearful…especially around her. She plays with her bracelets loudly for a while: thinking. “But hmmm…Christina, what if I put a mask on your face…” Angela says as she ties a bathrobe belt around Christina’s forehead. Christina giggles.
“…and what if I let you borrow my skates…” she reluctantly offers as she begins to unlace them.
“… and you can wear my bracelets too, and you can pick the next song if you want, Christina, and I’ll dance with you so you’re not scared. Okay?”
Christina smiled and looked into her sister’s eyes, suddenly not scared at all…
Years later, twenty-six to be exact, these two sisters are sitting at their mom’s house. Angela is pregnant with her second child. She just broke the news to her sister, and she wants to celebrate…but Angela is nervous, because just one very short year ago, due to pregnancy complications, she lost her baby during a premature birth. She’s afraid to let go of her fear. She’s afraid to tell anyone about her pregnancy. She’s afraid to celebrate. It’s hard to be joyful in the shadow of those fears.
“Hey Sis, don’t be afraid…” Christina says holding her hand. “What if I come with you to all your appointments….” Christina picked a daisy out of mom’s flower box and handed it to Angela. Angela chuckled and tucked it behind her ear.
“…and what if I give you all my maternity clothes, and you can have my stroller too, and my burb rags.”
“…and Angela, we can pray about this too…if you want, okay?”
Angela smiled and looked into her sister’s eyes,
In the quiet recesses of my heart, my sister’s love echoed through those lonely caverns of mourning. It reverberated and struck every fiber, turning my grief into a hopeful song. A song that we could dance to together. She shared my fear and masked my doubt. Her calm reassurance brought me back into joy.
There is something about growing up with siblings that makes life extraordinary. In our lives, in this large family of mine, stories and emotions revolve around each other, spinning a web in which every strand resonates with song. Whether that song is an 80’s rock ballad or a Motown special; it’s a song that we sing together. Family is a lot like wearing a bathing suit with roller skates; you may be traveling fast toward an unknown destination without much protection, but at least you’re supported and comfy.
Photo Credit: Juliet Belasyse-Smith
Originally Published 7/1/2016