Brothers and sisters, I have some

I got 5 of ’em!

 

It staggered me recently to realise that when my mother was the age I am now, she was about to give birth to her 6th child! Whereas here I am with one, feeling like I couldn’t possibly be any busier than I am.

What’s more, I had my daughter at exactly the same age mum was when she had me, so it also follows that when I was 11 years old – the age that my daughter is now – I had 4 younger siblings and was about to gain a 5th! Thinking about it now, I wonder how my parents had a second to spare me any attention at all, with 5 other, younger kids requiring their attention as well!

School holidays seemed long when I was a kid, but they must have seemed awfully long to my mum, who was home with 6 kids, ranging from a baby to a grade 6 child. No wonder the baby slept in a crib in the kitchen during the day! And no wonder my mother was hospitalised quite a few times during my childhood with what was then described (to us kids at least) as “nervous breakdowns”.

Of course, it’s the silly things you look back on.

I recall one brother – I’ll call him Freddo – had a penchant for leaving home – this was when he was about 3-4. What amused us the most was that his chosen piece of luggage for his departure was always the same thing – an great big old kettle, the kind that you put an a wood stove (which we had in our kitchen) and after years of use, was blackened with – well, whatever blackens old kettles. He would put a matchbox car or 2 inside the kettle, as you do. He must have cut quite a figure as he set out in the big wide world, toting a large black kettle containing all his precious possessions. Luckily, we lived in a small town, so he’d be recognised by every second person in the main street, and always end up at some shop or other, out the back being fed pies, while they rang my parents to come and get him.

On another occasion, the same brother managed to cover himself, an old TV, other items out in the garage, and his best friend, with white house paint, and mum or dad having to try and clean it off them with turps. Ouch!

When I was pretty young, I was so fed up with my sister’s untidiness in our bedroom (you don’t get a room to yourself when there are 6 kids!) that I drew a line down the floor in chalk to divide the room into 2 halves. She was not to enter my half nor leave any of her crap in it. I can’t recall now if this was after we’d got a bunk bed…let’s hope not, or I would have made my own life hard, since I slept in the top bunk. (To get to it without encroaching on bottom bunk territory, I’d have to take a flying leap from the doorway!)

Another time, in a fit of anger at my sister, I threw a large magnet at her head. Luckily! – my aim was askew. I missed her head and smashed the glass door on the loungeroom. Phew! Boy, was I in trouble….but not as much as I might have been in had I hit her and knocked her out!

As you can see, when I was younger, I didn’t really value having a sister all that much. I can actually recall the evening when I realised that I was now happy to spend time voluntarily with my sister – that I’d started to see her as a friend rather than a burdensome younger sister. This was, naturally, after I’d moved out of home. I had this realisation one night when she’d come to stay with me in Melbourne, and we were preparing to go out to see a band together. It must have been the first of many, many such nights. If she hadn’t been living in Ireland for the past 10 years, there would have been many more, too, I’m sure. I always miss her when I’m out at a band that we used to see together.

Another brother, who I’ll call Grumpy, moved to Melbourne when he was only 16, to take up an apprenticeship. My parents organised this and put him in some kind of Catholic boy’s hostel accomodation in Brunswick where I can imagine he probably felt alienated and lonely. He used to come down to Fitzroy to visit me quite often, but at that time I was about 20 and living in a shared household full of other women, going to art school, completely selfish and absorbed in myself and my life, and found it difficult to have my younger brother dropping in because he was obviously depressed and I didn’t know what I could do to help him. He once asked if he could move in with me and I said no, because I knew that would be the answer from my housemates at the thought of a morose 16 year old boy moving in. That stint in Melbourne didn’t end well for him, and he moved back to Ballarat, where he still is now.

Now days I enjoying the company of my siblings (mostly!) and I’m aware that the connection I have with my siblings is one I couldn’t have with anyone else because it’s grounded in having that shared childhood experience. Sometimes I feel regretful that my daughter doesn’t have any siblings to share that particular kind of connection with. But she does have quite a few friends who also have no siblings, so I hope that they will value one another and their shared childhood memories in a similar way as they get older. And of course, you can’t miss something you never had. Siblings can cause you some worry and heartache as well – the more of them you have, the higher the odds are that you’ll have a fair share of that as well. But I’m glad I’ve got mine!

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