I haven’t seen my brother in nine years.
We last stood together on a rocky outcropping overlooking Horseshoe Park. Balancing cautiously on uneven stones, we tipped our mother’s ashes into a valley in the Rocky Mountains. They rained down and settled somewhere lost to view. We were 31 and 35.
I doubt I’ll see him again.
As children, our dad pitted us against each other like opposites—good kid and bad kid, sunshine and storms. I could do no wrong and my brother could do nothing right. The older we grew, the less often any rainbows reached between us. Our mom regularly came to my brother’s aid, my brother resented me for being the golden child, I recoiled from the unwanted and unearned praise from our father while also hardening against my big brother.
The favoritism, among many other wrongs, destroyed both of our relationships with our dad and corroded the tenuous sibling bonds between us.
Damaged but determined, we traveled into adulthood via disparate paths. From afar, my brother and I judged each other’s lives, criticized one another’s choices. When our dad died four years after we gave our mother to the mountains, no links—however damaged—were left to connect us. My brother did not attend the memorial services. Five years later, we don’t talk because there is nothing to say. We share a bitter past but nothing else.
So when the sonographer told me I was carrying a boy, I wept with such heartbreak that she excused herself from the darkened room. What did I know about loving a boy I shared blood with? My father and brother, my nearest male family, were merely strangers I knew very well and disliked more. I was unequipped, nearly opposed to having a son. But with time I learned, and I loved him boundlessly.
Almost three years later a different sonographer told me the next one was a girl. This time I dammed my tears until I had privacy, then let loose a river. How could I raise opposite-sex siblings? Everything I knew, all I had experienced and seen growing up in a brother/sister pair, was injurious and wrong. When it came to parenthood, I was already making it up as I went. I had only just figured out a son, and now I was being handed a daughter . . . plus a responsibility to set the standard for how they interact with each other.
I vowed that I would raise my children differently than my parents had.
I would emphasize kindness and empathy and never compare them to express my disapproval. I would encourage them to love each other at every turn in ways my brother and I had not, and never will.
Now eight and five, they share a profound sibling connection. They delight in glimpsing each other in school hallways, breaking out of line for hugs. They are each other’s cheerleaders at soccer practice. At home, he teaches her to spell the big words, and she asks him to help her be brave at the doctor’s office.
At my son’s first communion, his little sister cheered and gushed that she was proud of him (despite her minimal understanding of why). At my daughter’s preschool graduation ceremony, her big brother leaped into the aisle for a congratulatory embrace as the line of children snaked past.
It’s not perfect. They bicker, push buttons, and call names. But despite disagreements, they love in a familial way I never knew and will always long for.
Today, I passed through as they made up games with Hot Wheels cars on the floor of our basement playroom. Out of their sight, I slowed while walking up the stairs then stopped to listen to this tender testament of the relationship I am helping them build.
5yo: Hey, when you’re a grown-up, are you going to forget we’re brother and sister?
8yo: No, never!
5yo: I’m not going to forget we’re brother and sister, too. I love you.
8yo: I love you, too.
My history will not repeat itself.