How homeschool and grief created an unbreakable bond with my siblings
April 10th is National Siblings Day.
Most people I know look at me confused when I mention “sibling days.” Like, I’ll tell a friend, “On Saturday, we’re having a sibling day and meeting up in New Haven to have brunch and then play Settlers of Catan.” Quickly, I’ll have to explain.
Most of the people I know aren’t as close with their siblings as we are. There are four of us, and despite living in multiple states and even multiple countries, it is a priority to spend time together when we’re nearby.
It wasn’t always this way. For most of my life, there were just three of us — my older sister, my younger brother, and me. Our little sister came around nine years later (same parents, because people always ask) — but before she joined our family, the three of us lived our childhoods incredibly closely.
We’re bonded in ways I never imagined we’d be.
For six years smack in the middle of our childhoods, we were homeschooled together. We stayed home with our mother every day, walked the dog in the mornings, struggled through science lessons, snuck notes to each other across the table, and ate snacks whenever we felt like it.
With a lack of extracurricular activities and other school friends, we were connected in our isolation, forging relationships with each other that were usually kindhearted and sometimes ridiculously irritating.
(It was a lot of time to spend all together, you know?)
Our mother stayed home with us during the day and took a part-time job at night, which we always struggled with. We’d stand in the bathroom and watch her get ready to leave, splashing her face and putting on bright lipstick. We weren’t close with our father and never wanted her to leave us with him, crying and pulling on her coat to convince her to stay. Once she left, we’d all climb into our beds. My older sister and I would stay up late in our bunk beds, whispering to each other and trying to stay awake until our mother returned. Our brother would slip across the hallway to join us in our room.
In the midst of our communal anxiety and sorrow, we’d take turns comforting each other to sleep.
Five years into our homeschooling experience, our youngest sister was born — but not without trauma. Our mother’s water broke three months early and she was admitted to the hospital, remaining on constant bedrest. The hospital was a 45-minute drive away, and we rarely saw her during those three months. We had no idea what was actually happening, we worried about our baby sister, and we were stuck at home with our dad. But when it came to celebrating birthdays, continuing our chaotic homeschool year, and having a very unconventional Thanksgiving (think pork chops at home late in the day after visiting the hospital), we always had each other.
We had another sister, too. She was born a few years after our little sister, but she passed away at just two days old. Our mother went into the hospital again, and this time, she came home without another baby. Our pre-teen and teenage minds had to try to comprehend what that meant for her, what that meant for for our family. Nothing was ever quite the same after that springtime.
Even though our youngest sister was too young to recall those moments, there is always a quiet knowing amongst the four of us that, together, we lost a sibling.
Today, we range in ages from 18 to 32, and I honestly don’t know how I’d do life without them. Sometimes, I wonder it would be easier to just keep to ourselves and not be reminded of our shared rocky childhood, but we’ve all made efforts to stay connected and continue traditions ourselves.
Our annual sibling camping trips have happened for four summers running. Sometimes one of us can’t be there, and sometimes there are added dogs and significant others, but it’s always beautiful. Our family vacations as kids were often camping trips, and it feels like setting up tents, building fires, and cooking dinner on a stick is in our blood. I won’t deny that my siblings often know how to press my buttons — more than anyone else — but I cherish these summer vacations.
Our lives haven’t been perfect, and they’re certainly not perfect now, either. But it’s pretty special to have these three other humans in the world — ones who come from the same place, who share years of experiences together, who I’m confident will always be there for me. Our rocky upbringing gave rise to these beautiful adult relationships and traditions. Today on National Siblings Day — and every day — I’m so grateful for them.