Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sibling left behind

I just finished watching The Kids Are All Right. As movies go, it's okay. Not worth the Oscar nomination, but it was ... alright.

The final scene throttled me. It had nothing to do with the relationship between the mothers - which had been damaged - nor between the mothers and their daughter. It was between the younger brother and the sister going off to college. "It's going to be weird not having you around," he said. It was not entirely a throw-away line, but not a line of great heft in the grand scheme of the movie.

A pit formed in my gut and I almost started crying. Suddenly, for the first time ever, I had immense sorrow for my little brother and what he must have felt when I left for college. He was left alone with Mom and Dad for the first time in his life. When he had a shitty day and couldn't share the details with our parents, the only family member who he could turn to in the moment was no longer there. His most important peer relative wasn't there for him anymore. He must have felt lonely at the beginning. Especially since my leaving for college coincided with my family moving to another city altogether where he had to build a base of friends from scratch. Ugh. Poor kid.

I'd never really thought of how it must have felt for him because I'd never confronted it. I feel pretty strongly that people should take time in their lives to leave the confines of their family unit and develop their own interests; that it's important to one's own identity. I always looked at my personal growth experiences from, well, my point of view. It never really occurred to me how they made people other than my parents feel. Not that I necessarily would have altered direction had I sensed the loneliness that my brother probably felt - heck, he, almost more than anyone, has always been very encouraging of me pursuing my own "thing"! - but I just wish I would've had the maturity and empathy to see from his point of view, when I was 18 and leaving home. I wish I would've had them to see from his point of view as an adult.

Part of the reason I was blind to his feelings - assuming they were what I think they were - was because I have no notion of what it's like to have an older sibling. I'm the oldest. I turned to my little brother for love and support when we were growing up, but I didn't look to him for guidance, per se. That's still the case, today, for the most part. I think he probably sought that from me, because I was older. I was the buffer between him and my parents: the one that would spout "wisdom," but without the threat of punishment and with softer, or no, judgment than what my parents would've doled out. I got none of that. If I needed family guidance, I got it from Mom and Dad and if I was judged, I was judged. Because I never had that buffer, it never occurred to me that other people have it and that they might miss it. You don't know to miss what you never had.

This realization takes on more resonance for me right now, because I've had a very emotionally rocky year with my brother. There has been an (avoidable) occurrence that has put more strain on our relationship than anything ever before. We're handling it like grown-ups (I think), but it's been tremendously painful for me, and I'm pretty sure, for him, too. I don't know that the turbulence is over. In fact, in some ways, recent circumstances have made things more emotionally complicated (on my end, at least). I'm carrying a ton of unresolved pain and I worry that if I tell him exactly how agonized I am, then it'll just push him away; and then I worry that if I don't tell him how crushed I am, then he'll just drift farther away. Either scenario seems horrible to me and I effectively lose my brother, one of my top 5 favorite people on the planet.

For now, I'm keeping my mouth shut and hoping we can just work through this and all the hurt will eventually scab over and we can start anew, as it were. Imagining his grief at my leaving the house is good for me. Not out of schadenfreude or anything, but because it helps me think of ways I can relate to him, better. And hopefully heal.

photo courtesy ToobyDoo, Flickr Creative Commons


secret agent woman said...

I've been thinking about this from the other side. My older son goes off to college this fall and I wonder how it will be for my younger son. I think he'll really miss his older brother and I hope they can stay connected.

mommanator said...

whew, that was thought provoking!
I was the middle child, I was glad when my older brother left for college-I then was the older sibling. My younger brother and sister are actually like my children now since our parents died. As they are so much younger than I. I have always believed in the notion of birth order and you