Friday, November 13, 2015

Sisters-The Backstory and/or A History Lesson

I include this video for many reasons. So many reasons I cannot quite spit them all out on cue, but a big reason is because my sister and mother and I have a long history of regimented Christmas-mania. 

Only recently I have begun to count myself out of their obsession, having gained some healthier perspective and developed my own traditions, but back in the hey-day the holidays would begin only after Thanksgiving, Christmas decorations would have to be over the top and painstakingly positioned and agonized over before being rearranged and then put back again, many baked goods would be made, gifts wrapped as perfectly as possible, and a variety of Christmas movies watched at least once but sometimes many, many times throughout the season. All ethereal rules that were created and enforced without speaking.

Now, don't think that my mother is a decorating maven or any sort of Martha Stewart or Betty Crocker. The perfectionism is on the part of me and my sister, birthed out of the unending comparison and competition between siblings in my family. The love/hate relationship between the sisters in White Christmas? Not quite us, we have barely a teaspoon of love, hardly any fun or speaking terms, no support, but the deceit and feigned affection, manipulation and competition-yes, we have more than enough. 

It's been that way a very long time. I remember horrible fights-physical and verbal-between us as youths and very often thinking that I did not want to have a sister, or that if my parents divorced she would be guaranteed to go with Mom so I could go with Dad and get away from her! We shared rooms off and on throughout our time at home and usually fought so horribly we would be again separated (eg. setting out tacks beside each other's bed or outside the bathroom when we got up in the middle of the night-yep, blood was drawn). Some normal sibling sisterly stuff, other, not so much.

I was the oldest, my brother was 18 months younger and the middle child, and my sister was 4 years younger, and the baby. My mother was the baby in her family, my dad was second oldest and then oldest when his favorite sister died unexpectedly a little over a decade ago. I know it's pretty natural and expected to have parents make exceptions or "baby the baby" and this happened in my family, no doubt, but it was almost always mom doing it and my sister and my dad-whew, cats and dogs in an oil and water arena.

What I believe is not normal, is the fact that my sister is still treated with kid gloves and my mother has told other adults (her friends or relatives, couches, teachers) that "you need to stop doing A because it makes (my sister) feel B" or procuring "playdates" of sort for my twenty-something sister. 

All this micromanagement is complicated by the fact that quite a few people believe that my sister may be some type of Bipolar or have a personality disorder, at the very least anxiety problems. She's a powder keg with a very sensitive fuse and my mother runs interference for her (quite possibly always will) but on the flip side she will say horribly cruel and offensive things, straight-up lie, or manipulate people and if things turn on her (as they quite often do) cries and plays the victim or invokes protection and approval from my mother.

For me, as a sensitive person and one that with a low tolerance for sarcasm and meanness, my sister is a caustic, risky game of Roulette. I never know what I'm going to get and often I get burned. The very few times that I felt genuinely connected and that she was speaking honestly with me the interactions were quickly overturned and categorized as deft deceptions. 

One highly relevant example would be when my sister came to meet my son. It was two weeks after the birth and she came for visit and fawned over our gorgeous baby. I can't remember much of the visit except for an odd off-hand conversation about what a bastard child was (related to something off Facebook) and as you all know that became quite topical.... anyways. It seemed like a great visit, I thought, "maybe she will be a good aunt."

Not quite two weeks later she was back again, supposedly visiting with my mother and coming to help me out since I was barely a month postpartum. No. They showed up with her new boyfriend and neglected to bring us food as we requested, chatted about themselves for 45 minutes while our stomachs rumbled and then proceeded to make me get up and go to the bedroom where my sister dramatically sat me down and told me she was pregnant. I held my cool for 5 minutes (they promptly left to fetch said promised meal at that point, ya know, since their business was done) and then I sobbed. The insensitivity of their visit appalled me, the dismissal I felt, the threat to my baby-dethroned at a month old! That's some of what I felt....

My postpartum depression issues set in after my sister passed twenty weeks. My psychiatrist would say it's a coincidence but my therapist says it's linked. I had been waiting for her to "lose the baby" that wasn't there or "I'm not really pregnant" like she had joked dozens of times before but no such luck. Our children would be 8 or 8 1/2 months apart and the stage set for a lifetime of comparison. 

Comparison, that dirty word that had torn apart my childhood and left me with a torn patchwork quilt of a family. My mother loves to call that ragged quilt a marvelously crafted masterpiece, but whatever she call it, it leaves me shivering. 

As I knew mom with a pregnant sister I became a convenient source for her dramatized questions or tales of woe (AKA common symptoms) or, as happened during our trip to Leavenworth, the magical elixir to her breakdown after her baby moved around too much (I told her eating half a cheese pizza and then a couple root beer floats before lying down was gonna set any baby up to kick ribs and sent her for a walk, the sobs stopped and she shuffled out, I wasn't buying the drama, so she stopped selling).

I have had dips in my mood around landmarks in her pregnancy: the baby shower I ended up in the hospital, her due date I went down to a terrible low involving self-harming, finding out about the birth was okay initially and then a bad day to finish. I'm working now on getting those feelings out and then trying to separate the issues with my mother and my sister and the baby. 

And on that note, I'm not a terribly cold auntie, I sent an outfit and a card over for the little one... but I must say, the feelings and thoughts that came up with that were "she doesn't deserve this much" and a poisonous sense of superiority and resentment. As I said, separating feelings is on the docket! 

It's still raw for me. The pregnancy and all those hurt feelings. In my family, relationships aren't healthy, things get taken personally more than they get completely ignored and her getting pregnant just as I had my baby.... it feels like a personal attack, another move in the comparison game, and yet another disappointment in my sister whom has berated, deceived, lied, hurt, and confused me for as long as I can recall. I don't think I know her that well at all.

What does the future hold for us as sisters? I have no clue but I do know that right now I am keeping my bruised and battered self as far away as I can and as hard as it is for me to own my own feelings or opinions, I feel really justified in that decision. Now THAT is saying something!

I don't understand all these ins and outs, but this is what I know for now. 

That'll do Me, that'll do.


Other "sisterly" posts include Monday Missives #1 and #7


  1. Keeping your bruised and battered self away is a massive piece of self care. Born of self knowledge.
    Well done you.
    And hugs.

    1. Thank you :) I am trying. Self care is good, all I can get!

  2. I think you did great, Hannah! Hugs.

  3. I'm sorry about all the toxicity in your family. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it is for you.

    1. Thanks Martha, I'm starting to accept it and adapt healthier coping strategies

  4. Keeping yourself out of harms way is by far the best you can do!
    I do wonder about the pictures though... maybe wiser not include a picture of your sister on your blog? For one, this is YOUR blog, not hers...

    1. Good point Elsewhere. I think I was just trying to break up a long, long post!


Thank you for reading and commenting!

Be well, HBF