An Ode to Siblings

I was an only child for the first 23 months of my life, until, on this day 25 years ago, Daniel Lester was born. I don’t remember that day, or any of the days surrounding it, or any days at all until at least 4 or 5 years later, but from every account, both oral and recorded, I did not adjust particularly well to this shift of focus until, in the tradition of big sisters everywhere, I learned that a brother meant I had a person available to do my bidding at will, without question and for very minimal (or no) reward. So I dressed him up in my ballet tutus, and “generously” offered him nickels and dimes for his best toys, and made him be the student when I wanted to demonstrate my superior knowledge by playing school.

Then one day I was giving him math problems that should have been too hard for him, math problems I had just learned how to complete, and he could not only do them, but he could do them bettter than me and faster than me and skipping steps my teacher had shown me. I protested, he wasn’t doing the work correctly, he was using tricks that wouldn’t hold up, but he could explain why and how his way worked and my dad, who was a teacher before he was a principal, confirmed that his way did, in fact, hold up. I was furious! Little brothers aren’t supposed to be better than you at things!

Over the years it happened over and over again. Spelling bees, standardized testing, music, math: these were all things I excelled at that he excelled at more. I didn’t resent him, but, like Cain with Abel, I worried about being eclipsed in my own family. Of course this was never a real danger, my family is fantastic and I always felt totally and completely loved and valued, but comparison has always been my struggle and even in my early years I let it steal some of the joy I should have had in being myself.

But then we grew up and those things didn’t matter anymore. We grew into people with our own gifts and talents, some of them the same (we are both runners) and some of them not (I have a pop culture blog, he has a raccoon puppet with a YouTube channel) and I came to see just how cool my little brother really is.  And he is extremely cool. I mean, the guy’s got a raccoon puppet with a YouTube channel. But when it comes down to it the only thing that really matters, the only thing that will last, is the sheer amount of time we have spent together. It has shaped us and the way we experience the world. We can and quite often do have conversations using only Arrested Development quotes. And for as long as we’re both around, there will only ever be one other person on earth who knows what it was like to grow up in our family. You can’t help but love the people who’ve not only watched you but helped you grow up. That’s pretty special.

Another way my brother is awesome: he writes poetry. He writes really good poetry, poetry that wins awards and gets published in journals, and the fact that we both love and create art is one of the coolest things about having a sibling–his poems and music can resonate with me in ways none other can because it’s coming from a shared history that goes back as far as we do. He wrote this one poem, “Expatriate,” that I printed out and tacked on the wall behind my computer at work, because it’s like entering a more beautiful and coherent version of my own head in the way it brings together a lot of the disparate thoughts, emotions, and experiences I have had over the past few years–which is kind of crazy, considering it’s about a very specific experience he had wandering the streets of Belgium, a place I have never been. Poetry can do that, but family can too.

So, 25 years later I’m happy I have a brother for reasons totally different than I had back then. Happy birthday, Daniel! I no longer resent you for being so good at everything, I promise. I brag about you all the time. I’m glad I have a sibling, and I’m glad he is you!


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