"Sibling relationships - and 80 percent of Americans have at least one - outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, loyalty and distrust." - Erica E. Goode
I think it is difficult to describe or understand connection. Sometimes, I think we imagine there is only one way to connect; we know it when we feel it. But the reality is that there are all kinds of connection that are equally close but look remarkably different. I know that my connection to my siblings is both strong like diamonds and lethal like kryptonite. And my connection to each of them is different, unique.
I can say I felt closest to my older brother growing up and as an adult, but our connection was not about talking frequently or spending time together on a regular basis. It is not the "best friends" connection that my sisters felt to each other. It was not the connection my older brother and sister had borne of so many years so very close to each other; close enough to hurt each other so often when they were young. The protective quality we three older felt for the two younger is as fierce as that of a parent but tinged with the knowledge that we don't have that kind of power over them. My younger siblings seem to exhibit equal disdain for that authority and yearning for that protection.
I have been thinking about that "parent" feeling versus the "sibling" or "aunt" feeling: the differences, the similarities, the privileges and duties, the spaces where the authority blurs and the where it becomes starkly clear that I have none. It feels overwhelming and scary and confusing all at the same time.
I spent what felt like the most fleeting moments with my niece this week on her birthday. She is different, unique in her own way, and connection with her has a particular look. She may not always read social cues, maybe never actually, but it does not inhibit her ability to connect. She has what seems like a typical connection to her brother – that love, hate, protection, jealousy, no words needed connection. She has the uncanny ability to channel her mother's emotions. But she was never a hugger, and she always complains when I plant a loud, effusive kiss on her cheek. In one of those moments this week, I responded to her complaint, and she denied feeling that way. Ah, it is just what we do … since she had a big smile on her face while she complained, I knew that it was true.
On our way home, I assured my mother how pleased my niece had been with her gift. My mother remarked that she didn't ever know if she had connected with my niece. Inside, I sighed … I know that frustration, but I also know if we look under and around we can see the connection. And we have to keep remembering to impose our kisses and hugs in the place where my brother would have done it.