The grubby intimacy of siblings


Last week, we watched Tin Tin.  I mostly watched Grace and Whit.  At one point her leg was slung over the arm of his seat, and his hand rested on her foot.  Sometimes this kind of intrusion results in a loud explosion of bickering, with some shoving.  But at other times it falls unnoticed into the rich swamp of shared childhood that they are crossing together.  I thought of the intense, often grubby intimacy of siblings, the way they are each other’s morning and night, the only other person growing in this unique terroir.

I missed my sister then, who is halfway across the world in Jerusalem.  I’ve written before about the opinion, held by some, that our most formative relationships are with our sibling(s).  And I have written reams about my particular sibling, my adored sister Hilary, the adventurous one, the brilliant one, the brave one.

Watching Grace and Whit – every day, but especially inside the hothouse of a week of vacation – I think of Hilary constantly.  They are each other’s first peer relationship, the person with whom they share these essential early experiences, to whom they will announce excitement and heartbreak, against whom they will probably always measure themselves.  They witness together the messy reality of our family life, both its raised voices and its enthusiastic embraces.  I admit perhaps too readily that my desire to have a second child was secondary to my desire to have a sibling for Grace (of course, that faded the instant Whit arrived, when I immediately loved him as much as I’ve loved anyone else on earth).  But my impulse was right, of that I’m certain.  I am intensely thankful when I observe their closeness, striated as may be with arguing.

After all, I would not be who I am today without Hilary.  In the simplest terms, her influence pushed me to explore further and to try harder.  There’s no better example than that we would never have gone to Jerusalem last December if she and her family had not chosen to live there for a year.  I watch my children bounce off of each other, their sharp corners gouging into each other and  their arms providing comfort when it is needed, and I think of Hilary.  And I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

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  1. Posted March 20, 2012 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    They are so lucky to have each other. And just as lucky to have you capturing their essence for them with your rich, melodic words. Xoxo

  2. Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Oh, yes. My sister and I are 17 months apart – we bickered and loved and supported and measured ourselves by each other, always. I think we still do. And I’m incredibly grateful for her.

    So glad your kids have each other, and that you have Hilary. xo

  3. Posted March 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I love this. I love watching my boys who hug each other and try to pick each other up and yell at each other in equal measures. It also makes me sad as I am not close with my brother … and I wish I was.

  4. Posted March 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    “the rich swamp of shared childhood that they are crossing together”….BEAUTIFULLY written! You have such an amazing way with words.

    “Grubby intimacy” is also such an incredible, and perfect, way to describe the sibling relationship.

    My brother and I are close and this is such a unique relationship between people….hard to put into words, but you have captured it so well.


  5. Posted March 20, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    There is no relationship I cherish more than that with my sister. My children I adore – no doubt – but the nature of that relationship is for them to grow up and independent. The sibling relationship feels more like a peer – admiration in some ways, disdain and jealous in others. Whatever it may be but always knowing that it’s forever. The one friend who will never leave you. I am so grateful of that relationship because I know it’s not how it always is among siblings.

  6. Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    So beautifully said. I am at times sad for my son that he’s an only, even though it seems to suit him just fine. It wasn’t what I desired, but it was what life dealt.

    I agree so heartily that siblings are precious throughout one’s life, even though some of the early years seem fraught with bickering and tears. I didn’t become truly close to my brother (18 months older) until we were both at boarding school and got dumped by our respective boy/girlfriends at the same time. We comforted each other, oddly enough, and that closeness has stayed intact through marriages and divorces and remarriages… I have been so blessed by his presence in my life. Thank you for observing your children with such love, and documenting the grubby intimacy so astutely.

  7. Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    There is such brilliance in your observations, Lindsey. I love the image of their touching limbs – the reassurance that the other one is right there. At 11 and 13 there is now a self-consciousness with my two and I’ve watched them more and more catch themselves and pull away these days. There are still times when they’re lost in an activity and an overlapping limb goes unnoticed – by them, not me!