why siblings matter

Reflecting On My Sister, My First Friend

My sister was the first friend life gave me.

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National Siblings Day caused me to reflect on one of the most important people in my life: my sister.

One of my earliest memories is of my sister telling me jokes in an attempt to get me to laugh after I slipped, fell, scraped my knee, and began to cry.

One weekday when I was in third grade, I came home to learn my sister was stuck in a school lockdown. A teacher thought she heard gunshots (it turned out to just be a few chairs that fell over). I was afraid I would never see my sister again. I was relieved when she returned home, unscathed, and I cried.

I don't remember all of the toys my sister conned me out of when I was a child. Those toys weren't important. Sisters are.

A short while ago, my roommates had a brief discussion over the worst things that could happen to them. "The worst thing that could happen to me is my mom dying," one said. "The worst things that could happen to me is my mom dying, then my brother dying," the other said. My immediate thought was that the worst thing that could happen to me would be my sister dying.

I write a lot. Often my writings involve my sister. I noticed this once as I was writing a poem about my sister's wedding. "I should write about other things," I thought. I've come to realize people write about things that are important to them. Writing is a mirror reflecting their feelings.

My sister: the first friend life gave me. I can't forget her.

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27 Things to Do With Your Siblings Before Leaving for College

The ultimate bonding-with-nostalgia to-do list!
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As we head into the fall semester, college students everywhere are packing up, saying goodbyes, and starting over fresh. Some students can’t wait to get back to school and its infinite, pseudo-adult freedom - and others might be sad to say goodbyes to friends old and new, summer flings, their hometowns, or even their families.

As a junior in college with two little brothers, I’m always surprised by how hard it is to part ways and head back to campus. It’s always sad to wave bon voyage to your parents, especially if you’re particularly close, but everyone warns about it - so it can be easier to prepare for. What you hear slightly less of as a freshman is how strange it is to be away from siblings you’ve spent your entire life seeing every day.

My brother Justin is a year younger than me, and we grew up inseparable. When I came back for Christmas break after my first semester, he was four inches taller, grew a full beard, got a job and a license, and was hanging out with new people – seemingly overnight! Meanwhile, my kid brother Rob, who’s 9 years younger – went from being six inches shorter than me to being taller than not only me, but also Justin, my mom, and my dad. His voice went from childlike to deep, his toys weren’t cool anymore, and suddenly he was a diehard gamer and a bonafide emo phase middle schooler. I barely recognized the kid!

At the end of the day, it’s not so much the distance that’s difficult. It’s feeling like you miss out on all of those changes. You show up every few months and might feel disoriented by the differences. You might not quite recognize your siblings, or they might not recognize you. Your parents might inform you that you talk differently, or think differently, or dress differently. You might notice that you can’t find anything in your own house because cubboards have been rearranged. Your childhood pets might pass away, high school best friends move to new towns, and your old hangouts will feel even more different than the house you left behind!

Luckily, I have a wonderful family, and the people they grow into are as interesting, as loving, and as invested in me as ever. The love was there, but it was different. My house was painted from white to orange, renovated with new bathrooms where hallways used to be, my room was part shrine to my childhood and part storage locker, and the rhythms of routine had shifted around. There’s a relearning phase and you get used to it, but one piece of advice I wish I had gotten before going to a residential campus is to spend your last summer before leaving soaking in nostalgia and bonding with your family.

To give you a head start, here’s 27 things you should do with your siblings (or cousins, or childhood friends!) before you leave for school:

1. I can't stress this enough... take pictures of your entire house. The kind you want to scrapbook for your kids someday. Throw on some crazy outfits and tell a story that progresses like one scene per image per room. Storyboard it beforehand for best results! You can turn it into a narrative and post it on your Insta story, but make sure you save them for all of time. It will change, and you will have details that are hard to remember.

2. Build a fort in your living room and pull an all-nighter, and marathon your favorite childhood movies. Commit to the long haul! Whether it’s your Disney favorites, the Pixar classics, the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings, or some other throwback goodness, And don’t forget to fill punch bowls full of popcorn! You can challenge them to eat the entire thing, or just get into an easy-cleanup food fight.

3. Watch an intentionally bad scary movie (made-for-TV, outlandish Syfy flicks are always good!). Even if you hate talking while watching, take advantage of the camaraderie in making sarcastic comments the entire time. My brothers and I like to pause the frame and compete over the funniest caption, or mute the speakers and make up dialogue for melodramatic actors.

4. Go to a playground and have a deep conversation on the swings. P.S. It’s extra fun when it’s rainy and deserted. You can chase each other without looking like teen hooligans loitering at the park. (Or is that just me, from one of a motley of proverbially suspicious small New England town suburbia? Yikes.)

5. Head to a park with some chalk and draw memes, funny (SFW!) cartoons, or play hopscotch.

6. Head to a skating rink and play tag on skates.

7. Bowling alleys are great options too! Take your #sibling selfies, but put the phone down too. This is about naïve, blissful nostalgia for a time kids these days can’t remember. Shout out to 90’s babies!

8. Go for a drive to a national park and take an afternoon long hike. Bonus points if it used to be somewhere your family went as kids! (Again, I’m from Connecticut. We didn’t have much else to do but hike Haystack Mountain, Mohawk Mountain, or Mount Tom over and over and over on summer days. It’s an instant blast from the past for me, but if you have a regional equivalent – like hanging out at a sandlot or a baseball diamond or a lagoon or running through a cornfield, go do your thing!)

9. Set up a tent in your backyard, on your porch, or in a treehouse, and go camping-from-home. Eat snores, tell scary stories, crash in your sleeping bags. Star gaze and talk about the future. (You might just forget you’re bonding.)

10. Pick up some food coloring and make pancake art! Pick your favorite cartoon – Spongebob, Fairly Odd Parents, or whatever your 90s kid Saturday morning fav was – and challenge each other to make the best ones. Don’t forget to make extras full of M and Ms or gummy worms. (You know that sugary thing your mom wouldn’t let you eat for breakfast as a kid? Well, welcome to adulthood. Enjoy.)

11. Make a ginger bread house, or carve pumpkins! Watching unseasonable Christmas or Halloween movies. Make your own version of anything you’ll miss celebrating together.

12. Go to the beach, or a swimming hole, and hang out! Bring beach balls and friends you'd think would get along with their friends, or a few pairs of goggles to go exploring. Hype everyone up to take jumps off a swinging tire, film each other, and you have yourself an A+ Snapchat story.

13.Go to an aquarium or theme park. Take pictures, eat fried dough, and go on roller coasters you used to be too short for.

14. Go to a local shelter. Volunteer for a day, play with the animals, and maybe remember some beloved pets from long ago. Memories, even sad ones, is something unique you share with your sibling – no one else is really going to get how much you miss your first dog, or share the same background that makes you adore a particular kind of breed. If you’re a cat family, there’s plenty waiting for good homes that will enjoy visitors too. It’s a huge stress reliever, and can be healing.

15. Plan a picnic full of guilty pleasures from when you were kids. My brothers always had a thing for Fruit By the Foot and Lunchables. Watch the clouds and point out whatever you see. (It’s basically an adolescent DIY Rorschach Inkblot Test – have fun teasing about your sibling’s weird brain or your classic dysfunctional family.) (Note: You can do the same thing at an ice cream or hot dog stand. Just be brave enough to lay on a picnic table and stick around a while!)

16. Bring board games to a park, throw summer lunch on a grill, and hang out at a pavilion. You’ll probably lose a few more Monopoly cards, leave some raunchy Cards Against Humanity behind, or forgo Chutes and Ladders pieces, but it’s worth it for the epic battle, summer day banter, and whatever bets you bring in. (If you're not into the sitting-still-on-a-sunny-day thing, bring a game o horseshoes!)

17.Have a nerf war! Water guns or water balloons are perfectly reasonable substitutes. Plan obstacles. Take. Them. Down. If you don’t laugh until your lungs hurt, you’re doing it wrong.

18. Whether it’s going to the docks, revisting your old schools, or chilling at a boardwalk, go do something that is quintessential of your hometown (whether it’s where you are or somewhere you’ve moved from). Challenge each other to describe the aesthetic, or trace old memories on a Sunday afternoon drive.

19. Hang out at the mall! Don’t forget to go to the movies and find an arcade. Play Mario Cart or Pac Mac or something else that would help you save the world from the aliens in Pixels. If all you can find is a tiny ride made for toddlers, like a pony or a little car, climb in anyway! Carpe diem. Maturity not required.

20. Bring $5 worth of quarters and get as many gum balls as you can carry. (I learned this one the hard way: Don’t play Chubby Bunny with them. That game is marshmallows only! You are not above heading choking hazard warnings.) Save the rest for your college laundry machines – trust me, you’ll need ‘em, and it won’t be half as fun.

21. Go to the library, or a hangout-friendly bookstore. Find a reading lounge, or a nook full of bean bags, and re-read the books you remember from grade school. Bring skittles, use weird voices, and don’t disturb other readers. (You’re there for No David or Junie B Jones, not to be a menace to your local bookies.)

22. Go to the gym together. You’ll want the habit once you head to school, and it’s always more fun the first time with someone you know. Especially someone you wouldn’t normally bring. It’s always a hilarious adventure – the more adventurous you are with trying strange machines, the better. Pretend to Schwarzenegger -lift a machine on zero and you’ll know what I mean.

23. Make dinner for your parents. Or, if you're not used to cooking, bake a ton of cookies! Enjoy a batch with your family, leave some for the kitchen cookie jar, bring some with you to make friends at your new dorm, and send some to your best friends from home as a parting gift.

24. Have a sleepover! Wear your most creative PJs (the more cartoon characters on them, the better) and drag your mattresses into your living room. Can easily be combined with movie or game nights of any kind.

25. Make a plan for the year to come! Pick a time each week where you'll promise to FaceTime or call. Figure out who's doing what for mother's/father's day, and figure out what you're doing for your parents birthdays and Christmas. That way you'll be organized and won't have any hurt feelings if you get distracted. It’s practical, helpful, and calms anxiety you might have later on preemptively. Plus, it’ll keep you communicating and coordinated even after you go!

26. Take pictures together! You'll be amazed how fast you'll both have changed by the end of your first semester. It won't be quite the same when you come back for your first break, or most times after that. Remember where you are right now! My brothers and I actually spent a week recreating our childhood photos as a Christmas gift for my mom! That way, we bonded AND we had a back-up thoughtful present to add to our normal candles-and-chocolate gig (something different when it’s hard to buy for “for someone who has everything”)!

27. Enjoy what you're both fans of. Whether it's enjoying a football game, playing video games together, watching a marathon. My brothers and I dig Star Wars and Supernatural. We made a point to see a few of the old movies and Netflix-binge a few seasons the summer before I moved out. We also did GISHWHES, an international scavenger hunt hosted online, so we got to dress up like stormtroopers or Supernatural cosplayers as we did it. Dive into the details, as if you were hosting a themed party! If you can get party favors from a store, do it! The experience is supposed to be as extra as the salt bae meme! The entire point is not to take this time for granted, so go all out.

The most important thing is making memories. Your version of any one of these items might be totally different, but definitely do something. You’ll want to stay in touch, but it will be easier missing each other if you had a bonding experience with a bright happy memory before you left.

Cover Image Credit: Cheaper by the Dozen

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To The Older Sibling I Never Had, I Wish You Were Here To Guide Me

I know you don't exist, and I know you never will, but sometimes I catch myself imagining a life with you in it.

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Even though years have passed since this horrific day, it still haunts my memory. Starting high school is a terrifying feeling and an insane transition when you don't have anyone to guide you through it. It was a mere 15-step walk to the door, and once I was inside my parents promised me there would be somebody there to help me find my classes, so why did I feel like I was being thrown straight into the gates of hell? I counted down the minutes until we pulled into the school parking lot and dreaded the sound of the car door opening and the anticipated start to the "best four years of my life."

As we were pulling up, I saw a girl who went to the same middle school as I following her older brother, who was a senior through the front doors as if it had been rehearsed at home. At this moment, I would have given my right foot to walk in her shoes right behind an older brother just this once. Eventually, with no place to hide, I just walked inside.

Unfortunately, this would not be the last of my longing for guidance from the older sibling I've never had.

I get it, I got a B in math. I get it, if I would have spent last Friday night studying instead of out with my friends it is possible that I could have gotten an A. But, what my parents seemed to not get was that life actually does go on even if you get a B on a report card. Time doesn't stop, your dreams don't diminish, and you are still viewed as a fairly competent person.

Luckily for my younger sisters, it seems my parents eventually did get it at the cost of my phone being taken away for three months and my social life ceasing to exist for the rest of that school year. As I spent every Friday night at home studying I longed, for just this once, to have an older sibling who was willing to take this hit for me.

Why did nobody tell me that it's actually more fun to go to school dances with friends than the boy you barely know who is just desperate for some conversation with the opposite sex?

I always wondered why that girl I went to middle school with never took a date to any of our formals or homecomings. Eventually, four homecomings and two proms later, I realized that this was because stumbling through the awkward introductions to family, tolerating the completely posed and overdone photos that would never actually be posted anywhere because you didn't talk outside of this forced interaction, and small talk over fruit punch and loud music was never actually necessary. Of course, I passed this message to my younger sisters and saved them the struggle of finding out for themselves.

Don't even get me started on being the first sibling to have to navigate applying to colleges.

I really could have used you then. I'm convinced there is nothing more difficult than trying to fill out a FAFSA or Common Application with absolutely no guidance or experience. Is my application essay long enough? Should I apply for early or regular admission? What if I don't get accepted anywhere? As selfish as it sounds, I would have given my other foot not to have to find these things out for myself.

I'd trade a lifetime worth of shotgun privileges to have you in my life to help me figure this stuff out.

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