Jen and I chatted this week about sisterhood, family, and babies. Conclusion: sisters are awesome. So is Eight is Enough.
Lauren: Let me know when you are ready to chat!
Jen: I am ready!
How many sisters do you have?
Lauren: I have one younger sister.
How about you?
Jen: I’m the 4th of 5 kids; I have an older sister and a younger sister. I also have two sisters-in-law (2 older brothers).
Lauren: So you are both a little sister AND a big sister.
But my family is a little odd in that we are two separate generations: my parents had 3 kids close together, waited 9 years, then had 2 more.
Lauren: So you and your young sis are the two littles?
Also, sidebar: what were your parents thinking??
(I say that in admiration and awe.)
Jen: Yes: we are “the little kids” or “the girls”.
Do you have any other siblings? Or is just the two of you?
Lauren: It’s just us two: we are 2 years apart.
My Mom came from a huge family and wasn’t interested in having more than two, nor was my Dad!
Jen: My mom is the oldest of 5; my dad is the youngest of 3. (He has 2 older sisters.)
Lauren: So did you feel it incumbent upon you to have more than 2 kids?
Jen: I always wanted a big family. In fact, when I was pregnant with Margeaux I secretly hoped she would be twins, because I sort of knew I wouldn’t have another but actually wanted more than 3.
Lauren: I adored my Mom’s huge family and fantasized about having eight kids.
Then I scaled it back to 4.
But I am probably done with my two girls.
Jen: As I kid I wanted 12, like Cheaper By the Dozen.
Or Yours, Mine and Ours
Or Eight is Enough
All movies/shows I obsessed over as a kid.
I think I really wanted to BE in a big family, not necessarily give birth twelve times or parent/pay for that many kids.
Jen: Yes. I definitely had no idea what it would be like to birth/parent multiple children.
Though I imagine it will be substantially easier when they are older and not so needy.
Lauren: Yes, I look forward to that as well.
I loved the idea of all those different personalities, all the hubbub at holidays.
Jen: And for me, having a lot of siblings has been awesome because I have been closer to different sibs at different points in my life.
Lauren: My sister married a man who has TWELVE siblings!
Jen: When Tyler wanted to stop at 2, I worried about the pressure on them to be EVERYTHING to each other.
I still kind of fantasize about having 12.
Lauren: I also really cherish my close relationship with my sister and parents, and I don’t know if that’d have happened if we had five other sibs.
I have half-joked with my sister that she is my true soulmate/long distance relationship, because I feel destined to get back to a life where we live close to each other.
Jen: My sibs and I all live within an hour of each other; my sisters are both within 15 minutes.
We share clothes and take care of each others kids and pets.
Lauren: That’s so awesome.
I’m deeply, deeply, deeply envious of that.
Jen: When I lived in Iowa, we trained for a 25k road race together one year and then I came back to GR to run with them. It was awesome.
Lauren: My Mom is close to her many sisters in that way.
Several of them live in IL/WI and they collaborate to care for my aging grandma.
Jen: My mom and her siblings are taking care of my grandpa, who has Alzheimers.
Lauren: Here’s the thing:
My sister is definitely my best friend.
I assume that Robin and Holly will be best friends for life: I basically teach them that.
But when you add more sisters to the mix, does it work out that way? Or does it change the rel?
I know some people who hate their sisters, or have gone through phases where they hate their sisters.
So how does this work?
Jen: My sisters and I have gone through phases where we are very close and phases where we just didn’t have as much in common. But I definitely feel like my siblings are people I can COUNT ON.
They painted my house. They watch my kids. They have given me furniture. We celebrate holidays and birthdays together.
I know that if I need something, they will be there for me.
My sister is the first person I call for practically everything.
With the exception of three-ish years around junior high, we have always been super close and one another’s biggest fans. I named my firstborn after her.
Jen: Sometimes Dorothy gets mad and says she doesn’t love Lucy. I just keep telling them, “You might not like her right now. But you will always be sisters.”
Lauren: There is TOTALLY an ethics of sisterhood in our household.
Sisters are tops. Sisters are number one. We treat our sisters the very very best.
Jen: Right. Because even though they don’t get it now, I think that establishing that early on matters.
Lauren: When I was pregnant with my second (we did not find out the gender), we both hoped and hoped and hoped it would be a girl, because I really wanted Robin to experience having a great sister. When Holly was born we were OVERJOYED.
Jen: The other day, Dorothy said, “I am not going to come to your house to visit!” Meaning, when they grow up. And Lucy totally didn’t get the threat and said “We live in the same house.” But I thought it was interesting (and hilarious) that D understands the significance of that as a threat.
Lauren: Lucy’s like “We will always live together.”
Jen: I didn’t know the sex of any of mine, but we definitely hoped Margeaux would be a girl.
Lauren: As kids, we had family friends with three sisters and they fought terribly.
I mean, they treated each other horribly. But now, as adults, they are all super close and take care of each other’s kids, etc.
So is it in the genes?
Jen: D and Lucy fight sometimes. It’s intense. And it will be interesting to see what happens when Margeaux grows up enough to really be in the mix.
Lauren: My little sister (her name is Christine, and she’s 29 so I guess she isn’t really little) is insanely beautiful, smart, and talented.
So most of my anger towards her was motivated by jealousy.
She also has this amazing social life and always has, and I wished intensely to be more like her.
Jen: I have friends who are brothers who are close in age but grew up in different states because of divorce/custody issues. They are really, really close friends, and they have a ton in common. But they have said that they think they are so close as adults because they didn’t grow up competing with each other.
Which would have been the case, if they had grown up in the same household.
It seems like there’s no way of predicting how things will turn out, but siblings trend towards (at least in our tiny and totally unscientific sample) awesome relationships.
I remember that Chris and I had this intense argument in high school that ended up with us both sobbing in the bathroom
Complimenting each other “You’re so amazing, I wish I was like you!”
“No! You’re amazing! I want to be like youuu!”
Lauren: I think that was our last major conflict, other than the time I adopted a cat without asking her if it was okay (we were living together at the time).
Jen: My little sister and I worked together for a while in an after school program. Super fun.
Lauren: We lived together for 2 years in college
And if it hadn’t been for evil grad school, we probably would live next door to each other or something.
I still fantasize about moving close to her. If only she didn’t live in stinky old Tulsa!
Jen: Do you guys have any family in Iowa?
We have family in IL and WI — my Mom’s sisters live in that area. But the closest people are still 2.5 hrs away.
Jen: Does your sister have kids?
Lauren: No — they are planning to get pregnant very soon.
That’s killing me, I want to help her out so bad.
Not with getting pregnant
With having a newborn.
Jen: My sister had a baby on Monday.
And my girls are really close with their cousins. I think it would be so difficult to not have those connections.
Lauren: I spent most of my childhood growing up far away from my cousins/aunts/grandparents.
I yearned to be closer to family in the midwest.
Jen: I took the girls up to the hospital yesterday and Dorothy sang to the baby and told her about dolphins.
Lauren: That’s really sweet.
Jen: It was so amazing. I feel really lucky that they are growing up so close to my brothers’ and sisters’ kids.
Lauren: They are lucky. You are lucky!
I wish I had that feeling of geographical and… heart… centerdness.
If only all the people who really matter in my life also lived in the same place, and that place did not suck.
Jen: I knew, even when I was actively working on the phd, that I wasn’t interested in going on the academic job market because I wanted to come back to GR. And that was totally devalued by faculty. But seeing Dorothy singing to Paige? I feel like I got it right.
Not that there aren’t other ways to be right. But for me? This was right.
Lauren: Because my family lived in a state where none of us felt quite at home
There was a lot of desire to “get out” of Oklahoma
Grad school was that ticket I had been seeking since I moved there in 7th grade.
My parents even moved away, two years later (they live in Kansas City, which is right between Tulsa and Iowa!).
I always thought that the kind of place you grew up was really important, because I’d lived in a place that felt so strange.
But, now I think I may have got it all wrong, because I miss my family like a pain, and raising kids without that support is more difficult than I ever could have imagined.
Jen: Maybe your sister could move to Iowa?
Lauren: We actually tried that…
It just didn’t take! She has a really amazing group of friends that have been close since jr. high.
She had a serious boyfriend who she ended up marrying… and he works for the Air Force base in Tulsa…
And his enormous family is all in that area….
So she’s pretty much there for life.
Jen: So what’s holding you in Iowa?
Jobs, house, a million things, probably.
Lauren: For the time being, yes —
Brian’s very decent pay at a not-so-great job, and our house.
But yeah — I don’t think I anticipated as a kid the amount of PULL my relationship with my sister would have on my adult life.
I think it was after HS when we were apart that we realized how much we like being around each other, so when we lived together in college it was like roomie heaven!
Jen: Right. I would never have imagined that my adult life would be so deeply intertwined with my family.
Lauren: She taped American Idol for me and we even shared a car for awhile without fighting.
Jen: I put a picture of Lance Armstrong in my sister’s locker at work. We sent in an audition tape to The Amazing Race. I am trying to convince Tyler to move into my older sister’s neighborhood.
I eat dinner with parents or siblings (mine or Tyler’s) at least once a week.
Lauren: My sister is the only other person in my life who I just never get sick of.
I don’t get tired of talking to her, hanging with her, etc.
(Other than my husband, is what I mean.)
Jen: So, did our parents do something that made us connect with our sibs this way? Or would it have happened regardless?
Lauren: I don’t remember my parents placing a particular emphasis on the bonds of siblings.
They were close to their sibs but we didn’t live near my aunts/uncles so I never had that modeled for me.
Jobs took us away from family pretty early on in my life, so it was all phone calls.
Jen: My parents have always been very insistent on everybody showing up for one another: if there was a birthday or a graduation or some event, you were required to BE THERE. And if you were living out of state, you called. It was expected.
Maybe after a while, all that mandatory attendance tipped over into us actually knowing each other and valuing that?
Lauren: I think that explicit messages about the importance of family make a lot of sense.
Otherwise, how would we have anyone on our side when we do stupid shit or make a big mistake?
You know? When we get depressed and alienate all our friends and smell bad, who is going to dig us out of that?
I really want my kids to understand that we value family in a way that goes beyond mere liking.
(’cause otherwise we’d have some real problems with members of our extended families!)
And I think as we grow up and change and our identities shift, our friends and peers are often around only for a small piece of who we are. But our families are there for the long haul. They see ALL of us.
Exactly. Through thick/thin, with a full appreciation of all our complexities.
Which is probably why those relationships are so satisfying as adults. I don’t have any adult friends (other than Brian!) with that depth of connection.
Jen: Right. And I value my relationships with my sisters-in-law too, even though they don’t have the same amount of history, they are there for the not-so-pretty parts of family life.
Plus, I appreciate that my brother-in-law appreciates how fantastic my sister is.
Any mega-fan of her is a friend of mine.
Jen: Right on
Lauren: That was basically my wedding toast for them.
Funny stories, then stories about how brilliant my sister is, then complimenting my BIL for having such good taste.
Jen: In my sister’s wedding toast I talked about how we all listened to my now brother in law’s voice mail at work and evaluated whether or not she should call him back.
My sister was the first person I called when I decided to quit grad school.
She was the first person who knew I was pregnant (I was visiting, out of town, and Brian wasn’t there).
Jen: And actually, they met because a childhood friend of my older sister’s ran into my mom at the grocery store, heard from my mom that my little sister was single, and then fixed her up with a guy from work (now my brother in law).
I gave birth to Lucy 2 days after their wedding.
Jen: I was the most pregnant bridesmaid ever.
Lauren: I was pregnant at my sister’s wedding, too.
I found out right after the engagement, so she had me pick a dress first and then the rest of them matched up to me.
Jen: So: sisters (and brothers, based on my experience) are awesome, and if our girls don’t grow up to love each other intensely, we will have failed as parents?
Lauren: Pretty much
I mean, I would be devastated if that happened.
But, it seems like that is unlikely!
Lauren: I do expect some bumps along the way
But otherwise, I think R&H will be BFF most of the time.
Jen: I think it’s okay if it’s a bumpy road. And I’m even okay with them not being BFF. I just want them to grow up knowing that no matter what else is fucked up in their world, they have sisters they can rely on.
And, I would like to be able to model that for them in person
Rather than just tell them stories about it
Jen: So in conclusion: you and your sister need to live in the city, and I need to go see my new niece again because this conversation is really making me want to be with my sister and her tiny new baby right now.
the same city.
You and your sister.
What happened to my typing skills?
Lauren: Yes, I might move back to Oklahoma to be with her, and that is REALLY saying something!
Enjoy your niece. I’m totally jealous!
There are babies everywhere and spring is a notoriously pregnancy inducing time for me.
Jen: YOU SHOULD TOTALLY HAVE ANOTHER BABY.
and with that unsolicited possibly terrible advice, I have to go teach my class.
Lauren: If I didn’t get sick for 5 months straight, and then have kids who didn’t sleep?
I totally would.
Jen: I should go teach my class.
Lauren: OK! Great chat. TTYL!
What about you? What is your rel with your sister or siblings? What does family mean to you? How did your relationship to your brothers and sisters shape your idea of what kind of family you’d like to have?