A new element of my sister’s disabilities and our sibling rivalryPosted: March 11, 2011
It is occurring to me that my sister and I are both trying to establish boundaries right now…with our parents…regarding our independence. And I am beginning to suspect that it’s irritating us both, this process, and I don’t think my parents are 100% clear about to this, since they’re busily managing their lives and dealing with Lily’s seemingly ever-changing supported living situation.
Here’s the thing that I’m feeling, put crudely: I want out. I love my sister dearly, and my parents, too, and I would love to be able to be there for them and help them and make their lives better, because they have always been there for me and tried to do that for me. But I want my own life, too, even if it’s only for a few years – my own job, my own friends and lovers, my own place to live. I do, in fact, technically have those things, but: for too long I have not been able to claim them as mine without feeling like my parents were involved, or at least keeping an eye on me. This is the first time I’ve been dating someone and not even hinted at it to my parents. I recently had a very interesting and wonderful thing happen at work; this is the first time I didn’t share that with my parents. I no longer call them all the time, no longer am shouldering the stress of Lily’s drama while not being able to do one damned thing about it, no longer feel like I need to have them aware of everything I’m doing.
Finally, finally: I feel like I am living the independent adult life that they say they want for me, that they hold up as a model of what my sister should have.
My sister has a different way of expressing emotion, and very different needs and wants than I do. She sort of needs space from my parents because she is doing the normal teenager/adolescent thing of rebelling and forcing her way into the world on her own. Loud music, parties, friends, going out to shop or work out – this is her life, or what I see she loves about her life. (I really do find this hilarious, because despite my affection for loudly playing hard rock and sci-fi or action films, I’m happy to be relatively quiet and calm at home.) We both can be control freaks – which, not surprising, given how both of us were likely affected by her epilepsy during our very young years – but she’s the showmaster, always playing the crowd. I really think she’d do well as a talk show or game show host, given the chance.
So when my dad asked me to research something involving technology for Lily for him a couple of weeks ago, and insisted that I call him back that evening, and I did, I was – somewhat reasonably – pretty upset that he told me that he didn’t really want to be on the phone with me at the time. He said he hadn’t seen much of Lily for the past few days. He said that she had actually called him Daddy. And I was furious.
Because, see, one of her language therapists had, some years before, seized upon my father’s first name as one that would be a good exercise for Lily. She’s largely called my parents by their first names ever since, although she uses “Mommy” pretty often (and in conversations between just the two of us, she does generally call them Mommy and Daddy). Can you imagine how her actually choosing a nice behavior would hurt me, because it got her the reward of parental attention, and I hadn’t wanted to compete for that? I was already upset in feeling that my dad was sort of misusing my time without realizing it, and even more mad at myself for not being clear with him that I was actually busy and didn’t really have the time to do a research project for him just because he called and asked me to do it. To have made the time and then have my proffer of information cast aside…well, I was not happy.
She called him Daddy. And he hadn’t seen her in a couple of days. (Dad, did you realize when you said that…that you had heard my voice less recently? And had last seen me months before? I know I’m superficially just totally independent and that I live far away, but that really hurt a lot more than I expected it to.)
So Lily and I are at odds, I guess, in that there’s some element of me pushing our parents towards her and her pushing them towards me. And yet this is driven by us being totally in sync when it comes to our common goal of pushing away from our parents and living our own lives. It’s an interesting place to be: learning how to define boundaries, while my sister does the same.