I am the oldest of three. My sister and I are 16 months apart in age. My brother and I are 6 years apart.
My brother and sister have never had an especially friendly relationship. When she was in high school, they had a fight just before school pictures, and she clawed his face. He had scabs in his photo that year.
For a long time, my sister competed with me and belittled or ignored my accomplishments. I learned to live with and not be too sad about it. When my husband and I announced our engagement, my sister and her now-husband decided that they were getting married too, a month before us. Our happy news that we were expecting a baby was met by silence and stares. If I’d said that I’d decided to sell a piece of my brain, she would have been more interested. It turned out that my daughter, my brother’s daughter and my sister’s son were all born in the same year.
A lot of years have gone by since those days, with their usual ups and downs. I’ve had really good times with my sister and brother both. It hasn’t all been a struggle.
But until recently, my brother and sister had not spoken meaningfully in four years. No holidays together, no birthday celebrations, no summer gatherings. It was hard to cope with at first. Beside their own anger and issues with each other, I had to deal with my sister being mad with me because I wasn’t categorically on her side against my brother.
Over Halloween this year they had a conversation though and apparently have been talking since then. We’ll all be spending time together on Christmas Eve at my sister’s house this year. She and her husband have two children. Our parents will be there. My husband and our daughter and I will be there. My brother, his three children (by two different mothers), his girlfriend and two of her children will be there.
Suddenly I can’t breathe. My shoulders are in knot, and my jaw’s clenched just thinking about the potential for disaster, making a poorly timed sarcastic comment, not acting interested enough about her trip to Fiji . I’m fretting over what to bring that correctly fits the parameters she’s issued for food, and I’m worrying about slippers because we’re not allowed to wear our shoes on her wood floors.
And then there’s a tiny space where I manage to inhale, deeply, and when I exhale the space opens up further. In the gap I see my fears and anxieties for what they are. Shadows. There’s no reason to seize up, control, grasp or push away. I breathe in all the fear and stress that so many people are feeling this time of year. I breathe out calm.
I'm not afraid of what happens next. I get to spend an evening with my dear siblings, come what may.