5 Things I Learned About Sibling Love While in Yosemite

Over the weekend I went on a trip to Yosemite with my two younger brothers. Yes it was just the three of us. Yes we are all in our 20s. No we are not grieving over the loss of a parent. The mountains were calling and we simply had to go.

When I told people about our weekend plans, I received raised brows and high pitched Oh’s … the kind of Oh’s you get when you tell someone you named your baby “Flemming”.

I’ll admit this whole sibling trip idea was new for us, too. We’re close, but we’re not secret-handshake, charades tournament champions close. Nevertheless we knew it was time we enjoyed some nature before before we were too old to try.

Turns out you can learn a tremendous amount about yourself and your family when you spend time with them. Here are some things I learned this weekend.

For the protection of my brothers’ identities, I will call them by their childhood supermodel stage names, Michelle and Hazel. (When I was about seven I would dress them up in my finest princess wear and have them model my garments to the family).

It’s OK That We Disagree

On Friday afternoon we all piled into my Subaru with our baseball caps and aviators, unabashed by our whiteness. My boyfriend even took a photo of us before we left — yet another sign the world was somehow enchanted by the idea of sibling bonding. Strange to me, because I wasn’t even remotely nervous about the trip.

But then I got it.

As driver, I naturally let Michelle and Hazel DJ. For the first 3 hours I endured the mumbly what-the-fumbly of new age rap music. With each song the difference between rap preferences of a ’92 kids and “rap” preferences of a ’97 kids became more statistically significant.

Most rap music made within the last few years is infuriating to me. I hold onto Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. like my favorite tattered stuffed animal. Their rap sounded like pulling the beaded eyeballs of my stuffed animal.

The point is, just because you are siblings doesn’t mean you’re going to have the same values or interests or even ability to discern good rap music from bad rap music. Respecting your differences is a celebration of the infinate variations that can be produced from your mom’s ovaries and dad’s sperm.

I’m Afraid of That Kind of Family Bonding

When I think of bonding, I think of mandatory events where everyone involved is at least partially dreading it. I am afraid of being 40 and dreading the idea of spending time with my brothers.

My fear of shitty family bonding is what perpetuated this weekend trip. Our distance was beginning to feel real. Conversations were thin. That wasn’t acceptable to me.

No family member of mine is going to call in sick to Thanksgiving, I thought. We need Yosemite.

Despite my ambition, I realized that some distance is expected if you haven’t been spending quality time together.

Here’s the thing: “bonding” sucks. But “hanging out” is fun. Bonding has an itinerary. But hanging out is unstructured. Sometimes bonding with your siblings feels a lot like meeting up with a friend of a friend, but the friend you both know isn’t there. It may be clunky at first, but eventually you agree on a place to eat, and before you know it you’re hanging out.

Eating Together is More About the Together than the Eating

Sharing a meal with your family members will never cease to be the most sensible way to spend time together. Choosing what to eat is another story.

Michelle and Hazel eat a lot of fast food. I only touch it when it’s the last food source within 50 miles. They drink Red Bulls, I drink black coffee. They add bacon, I substitute for a veggie patty. At one point Hazel asked me with genuine astonishment how I crave vegetables. I said “I listen to my body, then give it what it wants.” Shocked, he said, “how do you listen to your body?”

For me, food is medicine.

For Hazel, food is fun.

For Michelle, food is fuel.

Our different relationships to food did not change the fact that we all had to eat. So we compromised with pizza.*

We Balance Each Other

Together we feel like the three primary colors, opposite but complementary. Or, more accurately, like the three kittens from The Aristocats. We are all annoying in our own way, and we’re all winning in our own way. We balance each other. When two of us are butting heads, the third always steps in as mediator.

Michelle and Hazel had philosophical debates about Avatar the Last Airbender. Michelle and I analyzed lyrics and discussed tragic details of Mac Miller’s death. Hazel and I ate gummy worms and made up names for the giant Sequoias.

We all thought that diner was gross, but for different reasons. We all love stand-up comedy but we don’t like the same comedians.

Jumping Back into Sibling Roles is Natural

There’s something about being with your siblings that makes you want to point out anything remotely unfair and gang up against the weak one. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are still fighting to be favorite child after our parents are dead and don’t care about us anymore.

As oldest sibling, it was the unspoken expectation that I would take care of the lodging and the itinerary. When I take trips with my friends, I typically sit back and let the more aggressive people lead. But in my family, I make the itinerary.

We hiked in the Mariposa Grove Trail near the South entrance of the park. I kept a good ten-foot pace ahead of Michelle and Hazel, who strolled up the mountain like two old men out for a post-lunch stroll. Their slowness set me off. I would walk ahead and stop, then walk back to them. They picked up on impatience and stopped more often to look up at the trees. The more I encouraged them to pick up the pace, the more incistant they were about slowing down.

This made me anxious, like I was being held back. It was unbearable. They laughed at me. Hazel said my energy made sense because I hike all the time. Michelle, ever the middle sibling, claimed he had hiked more miles than both of us combined. Hazel laughed and shrugged, happily admitting he is not a hiker. But Michelle and I were determined to prove who had hiked the most and was therefore more fit.

Hazel suggested a race: anyone who made it to the lookout first. Michelle broke into a run. Hazel and I jogged in the back, since I was driving anyway and Hazel was more interested in the wager than the race. This has been our dynamic for 20 years, and it will be for another 20, and another 20 after that.

The Takeaway

Spending time with your siblings is a humbling, revealing experience. The more you do it, the more you see the value in it.

Pizza is the olive branch of foods. It’s a unifier.

I’m passionate about making the most of our time, energy and resources. I write about habits, rituals, personal development, self-care and communication.