Sibling Rivalry, Part One: "Don't Touch My Stuff!"

Today’s writing prompt is the first in a three-part series about people that hold a special place in our lives: siblings.

Our typical Friday Focus prompts ask you to think about a single person in your family and to record the memories and stories associated with them. Siblings, though, present a few more challenges (in more ways than one!).

My two oldest children, July 2014

First off, not every family is the same size. For these next three posts, I’d like you to focus on just a single brother or sister each week. If you have more than three siblings, choose whichever ones you like (or be ambitious and write double!). If, like my father, you are an only child, pick a cousin you are/were close to.

Second, the topics to write about will be very similar for each sibling. To avoid needless repetition, our posts will generally highlight different life stages, but all three posts can and should apply to all three of your selected siblings.

Third, as with all our posts here at The Family Yarn, the ultimate goal is to spark your own ideas and memories to guide the writing of your family’s unique narrative. We all have different relationships with our siblings—some good, some awful—and I can’t begin to think of all the questions to ask to draw out your stories. Don’t feel constrained by my suggestions; just get your memories on paper!

For this first week, think about your oldest sibling. This could be an older brother or sister, or the oldest of your younger siblings if you happen to be the firstborn of your family.

We'll also think about your sibling's childhood this week. Again, I encourage you to revisit this childhood topic for your other siblings when we get to them, and to think about this week's sibling when we discuss later stages of life in Parts Two and Three.

Some questions to get your memory going:
  • Is your chosen sibling older or younger than you? How did that affect your relationship with them?
  • Is there a large age gap between you? If so, did one of you ever act like a parent to the other? If you're closer together in age, were you close friends or confidants?
  • Did you and your sibling share a bedroom growing up?
  • What was the biggest fight you recall having with your sibling?

Me and my sister, Easter 1984

I am the older of two children in my family, and the oldest of five grandchildren. My sister, Sarah (born 1980), is two years younger than I am, and there weren’t really any other kids in our neighborhood growing up, so we spent most of our time together.

Until I started high school, Sarah and I shared a small bedroom with two twin beds (not bunked) and individual dressers stacked on top of each other. I don’t recall having too many toys that were his or hers, although she probably had a couple Barbies that I never played with. We grew up fairly close, but developed our own circles of friends as we became teenagers.

Family Camping at Cape Henlopen, Fall 1982
Sarah participated in Girl Scouts through grade school, never quite getting over her frustration that she couldn’t be part of the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, whom to her seemed to do much cooler outdoors activities. I recall one particular instance in which her troop leader had the girls polish silverware during a meeting; doubtless, Sarah’s involvement in Girl Scouts wasn’t as enthusiastic after that experience.

Saturday mornings were always cartoon times. Sarah and I would go downstairs before the parents and watch the Smurfs and the Snorks, Scooby-Doo, the Flintstones and the Jetsons. Later years brought Inspector Gadget, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Animaniacs. Our typical cartoon-watching snack was a box of Hawaiian Punch and a Kraft Single cheese slice; we would use the plastic straw to punch little holes in the cheese and pretend we were eating Swiss cheese.

After-school television was always Mister Rogers Neighborhood and Square One on PBS, various shows (Double Dare, Rugrats, Doug, etc.) on Nickelodeon, and Encyclopedia on HBO. When we were in high school and would get home before our parents did, we surreptitiously watched music videos on cable; Pop-Up Videos on VH1 were our favorite. More educationally, we also watched lots of cooking shows on both PBS (Jeff Smith, Justin Wilson, Natalie Dupree, and Martin Yan!) and the fledgling Food Network.

Fishing in Minnesota, July 1989

Leave a comment below with memories of growing up with your sibling. What activities did you share? Were you close or more independent?

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