May 31, 201309:34 AM
Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

Answering the Sibling Question

Elliot and Georgia

The sibling question is such a hard one for me to successfully answer, and I get asked it all the time. Everyone does. It’s a typical “get to know you” question, ostensibly harmless: “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” I ask it myself of other people frequently.

 

When I was young and both of my half-siblings were alive, I just said yes. Yes, I had a brother and a sister both, even though they were a lot older than I was.

 

A couple of weeks after my brother died when I was 7, my mom and dad and I took a trip to get away from it all, and as I was building a sand castle with another sunburned little girl in Navarre Beach, she asked me casually, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

 

“Yes, I, um, I have a half-sister,” I said. I had never before referred to my sister as my half-sister, but I recall feeling like I had to fill the extra space left by not mentioning my brother with something.

 

My mom motioned me over. “Don’t do that,” she said. “She is every bit as much your sister as she was before, and you don’t have to leave your brother out. Just say you had a brother and he died.”

 

It was good advice, thoughtful and fair and honest – my mom always gives good advice. But, then and now, following it isn’t always that easy.

 

I didn’t want to tell a stranger on the beach about my dead brother; I wanted to forget about it and just build a damn sand castle.

 

When I started a new school at the end of that summer, I got the sibling question constantly. I told the first person who asked that I had a sister and a dead brother.

 

“Oh, weird,” she said and walked away.

 

I told the second person who asked that I had a sister and a dead brother.

 

“How’d he die?” she asked.

 

“He killed himself,” I said.

 

“He’s going to hell,” she said and walked away.

 

I told the third person who asked that I had a sister.

 

And for a long time, that was my standard answer. People too often wanted to know the details of my brother’s death, details that even now I don’t like discussing. I can’t blame people for asking how my brother died, but I am still kind of appalled at the number of people who think “How’d he do it?” is an appropriate follow-up question.

 

Now that my sister is dead, too, it is all too easy to just say I am an only child. In many ways, it is true. I am my mother’s only child, and I definitely grew up as an only child. Even when they were alive, my siblings were so much older than I was that we didn’t have a typical sibling relationship. I hate having to put well-meaning strangers through the mental gymnastics of trying to figure out how to respond to, “Well, my dad had two kids in his first marriage and then 20 years later, he had me in his third marriage, but in any case, both my brother and sister were troubled alcoholics who died way too soon” when all they were expecting was a simple yes or no.

 

All of this is really just an elaborate introduction to the fact that I mostly consider myself an only child and so watching my two daughters and my stepson forge relationships as siblings is really amazing for me.

 

Ruby and Elliot get along so much better than I ever could have imagined a 6-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy could get along. “Did you love me the moment you met me?” she asked him Wednesday night in her typical modest fashion, batting her eyelashes in his direction.

 

“Yeah, sure,” he said. “I loved you all the time. Just don’t hug me right now, OK?”

 

And adding Georgia to the mix … I have honestly never seen the kind of adoration that exists among these three. On my iPhone, Ruby has recorded several voice memos of herself singing different lullabies to the baby. She did this completely unprompted – I don’t even know how to record voice memos on my iPhone ­– so that I could play them to Baby Gee when Ruby was at her dad’s house. Elliot begs to be allowed to hug and kiss the baby – as if we would ever say no. And Georgia just looks at them both with a big smile and worshipful eyes.

 

I can’t say that it will last forever. Georgia turned 1 Wednesday (how did that happen so fast?), which means that any minute now, she will be yanking on the wires to Elliot’s Xbox and scattering Ruby’s crayons across the room and copying them and following them and otherwise being an adorable toddling nuisance. But for right now, it is pretty great. Ruby woke up super-early Wednesday because she was so excited for Georgia’s birthday, and she immediately rushed to her crib, sang her “Happy Birthday!” and then thanked me for giving her a sister.

 

I’m not saying Ruby is never jealous because she is. Sometimes she asks me whether I love her or Georgia more, and I always give her the same answer: “I love you both so much in different ways. I love you because you made me a mother. I love Georgia because she made you a sister. I love you both because you made us a family. I love you and Georgia to the moon and back, and having Georgia has just given me one more way to love you, Ruby, because I love being able to watch what a good big sister you are.”

 

Some questions are hard to answer, but that one, at least, is very easy.

Reader Comments:
Jun 3, 2013 11:01 am
 Posted by  wht

Since "have" is present tense, the easy answer to the question would be "No". You can choose to answer or not any follow-up question ("What's it like to be an only child?"), should it come, being the essential truth of how you were raised... But then you're already doing that now anyway - and it's the best and most truthful answer

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Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

about

Eve is further proof, if any is needed, that New Orleans girls can never escape the city. After living here since the age of 3 and graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Eve moved to Columbia, Mo., where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Missouri School of Journalism and became truly, unhealthily obsessed with grammar.

She had originally intended to strike out to New York City and work in the cutthroat magazine industry there, but after Katrina, Eve felt a strong pull to return home, to her roots, her family, her waterlogged and struggling city – and a much more forgiving work atmosphere that would allow her to skip a routine of everyday makeup and size 0 designer label business suits and enjoy the occasional cocktail or three with an absurdly fattening lunch. She moved back home in January 2008 and lives in Mid-City with her two daughters, Ruby and Georgia; her stepson, Elliot; and her husband, Robert Peyton.

Eve blogs about the joys and struggles of living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the unique problems and delights of raising a child in such a diverse and challenging city – including her experiences with the public education system – and her always entertaining and extremely colorful family.

Eve has won numerous writing awards, including the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal, the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for column-writing and Press Club of New Orleans awards for her Editor’s Note in New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and for this blog, most recently winning the award for "Best Feature Affiliated Blog."

She welcomes comments, advice, empty flattery, recipes, drink invitations and – most especially – grammatical or linguistic debates.

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