When most people see my sisters they see a reflection of me. Both of my sisters have the same skinny arms, nerd glasses, and pale skin that I have. But more importantly, my two younger sisters reflect my personality. They both love to learn, are kind to others, and are very competitive. Whenever I look at my sisters, I see myself. While both of my sisters have their own strengths and weaknesses, I know that as their big sister I have helped shape them. I cooked for them, tucked them in at night, and, to their chagrin, gave them time outs. My sisters are my world and I would do anything for them. Despite how much they mean to me, it is sometimes hard for me to tell them that. I am not a very emotional person and telling someone that I love them has never come easy to me.
Last week, though, I realized how important it is to be vulnerable and acknowledge how much someone means to you. On Tuesday, I went to Camp to Belong, a sibling reunification camp, for two days. While I was only there for a short time, it was a very powerful experience. The first day I arrived at the camp they held 'inspiration night', a time for the siblings to talk about what their sisters/brothers meant to them. Many of the siblings had not seen each other for months, even years. They talked about the pain of being separated from their sibling, the only person that they could ever rely on when they lived in an unsafe home environment. They also spoke about the love they had for their sibling and how much the camp experience meant to them. Hearing their stories made me cry. As someone that has a PhD in running away from my feelings, crying doesn’t come easy. But boy did I cry. I cried because I realized two important things that night.
I realized how lucky I am because I have never had to experience sibling separation. A few months ago, my team briefly debated separating my siblings and I remember feeling a profound loss of control over my own life. People told me that separating my sisters and me would help me stop being such a mother. I now realize that this is a common phrase that is told to many kids in foster care. “You need to stop being such a parent and start living your own life.” What they don’t realize, though, is that our lives are intertwined with our siblings. When my sisters are hurt, I am hurt. When my sisters are confident, I am confident. When my sisters are happy, I am happy. Placing my siblings in a different home than me would not have changed how much I cared about them. If anything, it would have sent me into a downward spiral because I would have been so worried about how they were doing. The best way to get an older sibling to stop being a parent is to find a safe and loving home for all of the siblings. Only when I was placed with my grandparents did I start to become less of a mother because I knew that my grandma and grandpa would treat my sisters well. I am grateful that I found a “forever family” where my sisters and I live together with my grandparents. When I was at Camp to Belong I began to understand just how lucky I am to find that permanency. I am able to live with my sisters and I am forever grateful for that.
While I was at the Camp, I also realized how it important it is to say, “I love you.” I saw how much it meant to siblings to have their brother or sister say those three little words. We often take it for granted that the people we love know how much they mean to us but they might not. So to my two sisters: I love the way you help each other out. I love your smile. I love playing with you. I love how talented and amazing you are. I love you.