And Finally, We Are Siblings

I try many things to keep a happy home. Few work. And the ones that do are short-lived. I praise their strengths, downplay their weaknesses. I openly compliment good behavior and ignore bad. I read parenting books. Try parenting techniques. Once, I set up an entire store, with prizes for kindness. It stopped the fighting, but just long enough to deplete the store.

I see glimpses of brotherhood. I do. One gets a home run. The other appears genuinely proud, but then quickly points out that he got two. Or that the field was smaller, the bat was bigger.

I wonder about threes-a-crowd and birth order. I think about too much testosterone and not enough nurturing. Or maybe not enough testosterone and too much nurturing. I cry. I plead. But when I am honest with myself, I admit that at this time, at this age, each prefers his friend to his brother. Because friends are chosen. Brothers are born.

My own childhood was not dissimilar.

When I arrived in this world, I did so to the great joy of my brother. I was his best friend. He was mine. We played super heroes together. We raced around our yard. We wore matching pajamas — his blue, mine pink. He called me Marbef. I knew him to be a supernatural god of perfection. And addressed him as Tom Tom the Indian Boy. (His name is Chris). He was my everything. And then he went to kindergarten.

Luckily, mom gave me a new playmate in my sister, who was born when I was five. I have a vivid memory of something that probably never happened. Mom placed her in my arms and said, “Here is your baby.” And she was. My second everything. I stuck bows on her bald head. I painted her tiny nails. I included her in my tea parties and made her the heroine of my short stories. I insisted she dress like me. Until she started to look better in those outfits. And became a cheerleader. And an actress. A beautiful singer and a more beautiful human. Everything I felt I was not. And all before I went to high school.

Most of my childhood memories are of fights with my siblings and good times with my friends. We had our own lives. We loved our own lives. Separately. Individually.

One thing held together our fragile sibling bond. And that one thing was mom. Through it all, adolescence, teenage years, college, careers, marriages, babies. She insisted on civility. And respect. And then when we moved, far from each other, she kept us filled in on  each others’ lives. And on Thanksgiving. Christmas. Birthdays. Summers, she made sure we were there, as often as possible, together.

When she got sick, we got closer. With phone calls and visits. We discussed her health, her finances, her comfort, her disease.

Then something happened. The conversations got longer. We spoke of our children, our childhood, our common idiosyncrasies. We laughed at the same jokes, used the same expressions, and learned that, perhaps, friends are chosen, but siblings can be, too. And we chose, we did, to learn how to love each other all over again. As adults, as friends, and, in the face of mom’s sickness, as super heroes.

We gave mom back to the earth this weekend. In a million little ashes, spread with a garden trowel. We scattered her. On her favorite mountain top, in her Sparkle lake, at the home that she built, and loved, and left. Secretly, we sprinkled her there. Near the mailbox.

Mom gave me many things. My stubbornness. My love of reading. My sense of humor. My sharp chin and sharper nose. She gave my sister her easy-going personality, her beautiful red hair, her limitless patience. To my brother she gave intelligence, defiance, a fierce desire to educate. She gave him his smiling eyes.

Each of us claims a piece of mom, but together, there is so much more. Her ashes are in the places she loves, but her soul lives within us.

It will end, and I hope soon. The bickering, the jealousy, the competition, the fighting. When it does, my sons will discover what I’ve taken far too long to learn. My first friends really are my best friends, the ones mom gave to me.

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