Caring for Siblings

For all of my adult years my mother has tried to force relationships between me and my siblings (and likely vice versa). She has insisted I always invite both my sisters to any invite, that all siblings should be included in all events, that I should call this sibling or that sibling when they are ill or struggling. I have resisted this greatly.

I am particularly close with only one of my siblings. Candidly she is the only one I look forward to seeing, the only one I think has any amount of understanding and respect for me and mine, and the only one I truly want part of my life. My other two siblings? One is not a particularly friendly or emotionally available individual and the other has made life choices I disagree with. I disagree with those choices so strongly I have refused to invite that sibling to my home due to safety concerns for me, my home, family.

This situation and similar ones have upset my mother dearly. For years she pushed my siblings on me and I pushed back. We fought, debated, discussed and eventually, I think, she got my point. I am an adult. Sibling or not I have a right to decide who is in my life (particularly if they are emotionally or physically unsafe for me or my family). Further, I have always suspected her intense desire for her children to be BFF’s was rooted in the fact she was not close to her own siblings. I will not live out my mother’s dreams for her. I will live my own.

And yet…

While my son was in the hospital, post head injury, he wrote a journal page or two that alluded to his sister lost to adoption, my search for her, and the current situation. While some might question my reading this journal, I should add that at the time he had no memory and no speech. It was his way to communicate with us. Further more, the page in question was directed right to me. We have not discussed that journal page since he left the hospital six months ago. I have wanted to but have not pushed. He has dealt with so much following his injury, recovered from so much, and still has recovery under way. I waited for the appropriate time.

I thought the time came a few weeks back in a therapist session. Discussing goals each of us wanted to achieve, I mentioned that I felt there was an elephant in our family room — his sister. I made no mention to the journal. Rather I said I wanted to discuss it as I felt the need.

Therapist looked towards my sons and my oldest responded to the look by stating rather matter of factly “I do not really care. I have no interest in discussing my sister.”

Internally I gasped. I might have even uttered a silent scream down the dark hallways of my own mind. Outwardly, I did my best to sit stone faced and not react. Therapist acknowledges his response and we move on.

Being Okay

Part of me is okay with my sons response. It may be true. He may not have any interest — and that is his right. He may also not be ready to discuss it — and that is also his right. The first option bothers me. The second does not.

Reflecting on my own experience of having a mother who pushes siblings together, I question why my sons lack of interest may bother me so. I know I strongly believe in his right to make his own decisions – now and in the future. So, why the heart ache for me?

Realization

I wanted someone to care.

I wanted someone, anyone, to care about my daughter — someone besides me. I wanted my mother to contact her. She did not. I wanted someone to express an interest, perhaps even a regret over the loss of her from our familiy. I had not realized how strongly I wanted this until a likely suspect I thought might surely care, my daughters own half sibling, said they did not.

Ouch.

This is not my sons issue – it is my own. If I allow and accept my daughter has no interest in her half sibings, surely I owe my sons the same acceptance.

I do. I know I do.

But it is aching my heart to let it happen. I did not, do not want, to be the only one that cared about her in our family.

Perhaps my mother feels the same way about my other siblings.

Mothers and Sisters Day

When I told my now 15 year old son about his half sister, he was about 7.  The conversation happened right after I found her and I was full of emotion and hope.  I believed back then there was a chance she might meet me and by extension, him.  I did my best explaining to him. I cried while my son sat listening, watching, questioning and later, overwhelmed with the information, spinning in his chair. My ex-husband, his father, sat by and said nothing.  The entire experience is documented in my post, Telling Children.

I never held such a conversation with my youngest son, soon to be 11.  I had hoped, at least in the early days that my daughter, his sister, would be common talk in our house. I foolishly hoped he would grow up with an awareness of her and that I would not have to make a big production about it.  Read any of my old posts and you will see how foolish I was in those days. The naiveté, the hope, the ignorance.

As my reunion slowly turned from what I hoped it would be to what it is today, the talk of my daughter, his sister, also turned.  I put away her pictures. I stopped sending her gifts (at her request); I stopped sending cards signed by her brothers and me. Gone were the days where my oldest son drew her pictures, asked about her, and told me she was a total “hottie”.  In its place came silence, tears, and stilted conversations.  Despite my best efforts to encourage dialogue, my oldest son picked up on my angst.  While I never told him to, and never would, he stopped asking.  As a result, the free flow of information I thought would find its way to the eyes, ears and soul of my youngest son also stopped.

I have been aware of this. There have been opportunities to have that conversation, again, yet I let them pass. I have seen what my reunion did to my oldest son. I saw his confusion. I answered his questions like “why doesn’t my sister want to know me?” and “what did I do to her?” and finally “If adoption was so good for her, why isn’t she happy about it? Why isn’t she nice to you?” as best I could. My answer was almost always “I don’t know sweetie. I hope some day you can ask her.” For that is the truth, I don’t know. Only she knows. I am aware that anything I say will influence his perception of her both now and in the future so I avoid the questions, cease the conversation, and go on.

Yet in doing so, I left my youngest behind.  I want to think I was, or am, protecting him. Today, on mother’s day of all days, I came to the conclusion that I have to find a way to tell him something. I have to accept that another one of my children will make an installment on the loan of my heart taken out by Easter House.  Only now, it will be my youngest sons’ heart I offer up to the emotional bank teller.

It’s the same question each time. A statement of utter confusion with big brown eyes looking anxiously up at me.

“I have a sister?”

Today the question came while we were sorting old photos.  My husband and I had recently cleaned out our basement and I had three Rubbermaid bins full of photos, papers, books, and more from my first marriage.  My sons loved sorting the photos, asking who was who, laughing at my bad hair and excessive weight and the mullet their father sported in college.

Photos were being tossed into various piles when my youngest son says “Who is this?”. I look over and see him holding a picture of my daughter. The picture was taken on her college campus. I had saved the picture early in reunion when she once gave me access to her Facebook.  I had scoured those photos, saved every single one of them and later printed them all at my local Walgreens.  Most I had put into a large scrap book, again, early reunion.  A few extras seem to have escaped the album and were now mixed in with all the other family photos, much like they should have been all along.

“That’s your sister, [Amended Name]” I say.

“What? My sister? I have a sister?” he says thoroughly confused.

My oldest son utters a sound of exasperation and begins to grab more photos. As I struggle to respond, he does it for me.

“Uh, yeah. You have a sister.” He says in a lower, somewhat uncomfortable tone.  He is protecting me. I can feel it.  He wants to shut the conversation down.  He knows that I have told his brother this before. He is likely annoyed his brother is asking again but further annoyed that it is going to bother me, and presumably him as well.  What he does not know is that he was given a lengthy conversation, time to ask questions, time to talk about his sister where as his inquisitive brother was not given such an opportunity.  Mommy expected him to pick up the news and figure it out all on his own. Bad mommy.

“What, you mean, like Sienna? But she is my stepsister..,” he says even more confused as he mentions the child of his father’s new wife.

“No. Not her.” Oldest son says with a tone of annoyance.  He has that brotherly duh.shut up.stupid tone to his voice. He is jumping in and attempting to quash the conversation.

I should have jumped in here. I should have said something. The good mother I am supposed to be, I think I am, the one I try so hard to be, would have used this as an opening to that long overdue conversation.

I couldn’t.

But I will.

I just need to find the words. New, age appropriate, developmentally on-target words.  While I have told him many times before, I clearly need to tell him again, in a different way.

Yes, you have a sister.

 

 

Emotional Carotid

If she hadn’t done it before I might have overlooked it  this time. It might not have hurt so much.

No.

That is not true. It likely still would have hurt. It is the fact that this was done again, repeatedly, that made this time hurt more than the last.

I don’t understand people who do such things. Well, maybe I do, I realize I have the ability myself but I choose not to exercise it.  I know better. I feel differently. I don’t go for the emotional carotid. I have other ways to make my point, debate, argue, and yeah, hurt someone, without going for the deepest wound in their life.  I have my friend Karuna to thank for that lesson.

Years ago, on LiveJournal, I shared a similar experience. I believe that situation involved my ex-husband and his inflicting a similar wound.  Railing in pain, bleeding from the deepest parts of my soul, I turned to my LiveJournal friends at the time and spilled all the details into a journal posting, the title of which I have long forgotten.  As an adoptee and healthcare professional, Karuna likely said much in response. I remember only one sentence:

“you do not use a persons greatest wound against them.”

She was right.

My husband, and my sister years before him (her first offense), had indeed used my greatest wound – the loss of my first-born child to adoption – against me.  It was dirty pool. It is the mark of an unfair fighter, a nasty person, a mean-spirited sick soul that will go for the emotional carotid. Doing so stops the flow of blood from my heart to my head and sends me spinning into shock.  No need to check for a pulse. I am alive but emotionally dead.  It is a guaranteed win for them. A win that leaves me curled on the floor, literally or figuratively, attempting to breathe and regain my senses.  My white flag flies.

This time, this year, when my sister opted for that tactic I was momentarily confused.  The words she chose were out-of-place with the flow of the argument. Clearly she was losing, or felt she was, and she began to grasp at straws.  If there had been a mirror in front of me, versus the face of my older sister, I might have seen my eyebrows raise and squint towards my nose in utter confusion as I turned to my mother.

“What does she mean? Supplementing? Do you understand that?” I asked my mother.

My mother did not turn to me. Rather she stared at my sister and said “Don’t go there, Jule.”

It was then it clicked.

There.

Where would my mother tell my sister not to go? What holy sacred ground would cause my 68-year-old mother to suddenly interrupt a heated argument amongst two of her three daughters and demand her oldest child not go THERE.

My daughter.

Adoption.

I literally stepped back as if I had been slapped. Only I hadn’t been.  All my emotional control, my logic, my desire to contain my own nasty fighting tactics began to shatter. I heard the small cracks forming in my emotional armor. My breath became shallower and my stomach burned and flew up into my throat to choke me.

It was time to go.  There would be no winner here. Nothing gained.   Only more to be lost.

I have lost enough. My child, enough of my soul, my life, my sanity.

I left. Packed up my belongings with the help of my loving husband and left.

Gone.

As we drove away I remembered Karuna’s words and was thankful for them, for her, and for my ability to reflect on them at that crucial moment.  Had I not done so, things could have gotten much worse.  They didn’t. I didn’t. I don’t.

Do not use another persons greatest wound against them. If you do, be prepared for them to be dead to you and you to them. Relationship resuscitation may not be possible.