For Days 7 and 8 of our road trip, we were joined by my sister, Kirsten. We had just seen her in Denver, where she lives, together a few days earlier, but then she had stayed behind to do some training for her job as an elementary teacher (specifically, for her newer role as a “lead teacher”) while the rest of us drove down to Albuquerque.
Once her training days were over, however, Kirsten drove down to join us for the weekend. Thus, even though we weren’t seeing much of our niece Cres during those days since she was putting in hours at her job as a lifeguard, we did get a Family Group Feeling going.
First, we took a hike in the trails at the foot of the Sandia Mountains. I thrum to the landscapes of the American West so strongly that my fourteen-year-old finally had to forbid me from shouting “I LOVE THE WEST” every five minutes. Many people struggle to see beauty in scrub and yucca and beige punctuated by taupe, but to me, my heart never beats more easily than when I’m surrounded by such textures and colors. There is something about the conditioning of our youth, isn’t there, that disposes our eyes and hearts to just. feel. right. in certain places? For me, a child of scrub and yucca and beige punctuated by taupe, New Mexico’s arid vistas feel like a very welcome kind of coming home.
Before this summer, it had been almost eleven years since my brother, sister, and I had all been together in the same place at the same time. Put another way, as much as I was excited to be in the West and to get my legs scratched up by cactii, I was even more excited to tromp around in the same space as my siblings, with our kids bouncing off each other.
Here, my brother’s younger daughter, the imp named Sofia, externalizes her general joie de vivre. At the end of our trip, the day after we parted from Sofia, Allegra–a reticent person by nature–noted in a campground bathroom, of Sofia, “I didn’t expect to miss her so much. I mean, I knew I’d like her because she’s my cousin and all, but I had no idea I would love her so much. I wish she could come home with us forever.”
Paco also got into a happy swing with kicking tumbleweeds. Observe in this photo how he clutches to his chest a spray bottle of cold water–one of our strategies for helping him cope with the heat.
The next day we all converged on Petroglyph National Monument, which is described thusly:
Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago. These images are a valuable record of cultural expression and hold profound spiritual significance for contemporary Native Americans and for the descendants of the early Spanish settlers.
As we walked along the rows of etched rocks, it all felt too accessible, too vivid. It felt like everything we were looking at was actually graffiti hacked into the stones by today’s youth trying to fool tourists.
Then again, I’m not sure today’s youth favor these types of symbols. My sense is that they, in general, trend more towards a “cock ‘n balls” aesthetic. Plus, the effort required to hack a drawing into desert varnish is substantial, and I think we all know kids today can hardly be bothered to pull up their trousers, much less apply concentrated effort to artistic vandalism.
I don’t genuinely feel that negatively about today’s youth. Quite the opposite. I’m fairly enamored of today’s youth. It’s just that I like to try out being crochety to see how it feels.
Pretty boring, pretty fast. That’s how being crochety feels. Any attitude that is based on one issuing negativity from a stance of superiority–as a means of unfairly lumping together a group of people–gets pretty boring, pretty fast.
That’s why it’s only fun to be crochety about blowhards.
People who make paintings of unicorns and Peter Pan.
Members of the Tea Party.
The male members of the Supreme Court.
Football fans who dress up in team regalia.
Dog owners who let their pups off leash in public places.
Bitter ex-spouses who denigrate each other in front of their children.
Clowns who refuse to get into a VW bug because “It’s too full.”
People who spit on the sidewalk.
Drivers who honk to say “Hello!”
But other than that, there’s no reason to be crochety because it gets really boring, really fast.
We found a few things besides t-shirts, of course.
Did you all take a moment to admire the sheen of sunscreen and sweat on my clavicle in that sombrero photo? I am still so cold from this past winter that I embraced the sheen and thanked New Mexico for offering up temperatures that were a literal 110 degrees warmer than February in Duluth.
Naturally, a break from the heat can be nice, and since the air conditioning in my brother’s apartment doesn’t work so well, we headed over to my sister’s hotel room that evening for a Game Night.
I have many memories of playing games with my sister and brother. My brother was hardcore as an opponent when I was growing up; to this day, I still shake a little bit when I agree to a game of Monopoly or Risk because with him, we played by the rules, and we played until the game was over. Thanks to him, I have well-developed gifts at losing as quickly as possible in both Monopoly and Risk. I can go bankrupt in under half an hour, in fact, once I tire of passing GO and collecting my $200. Similarly, I learned to fail in table-top warfare rapid-like, ceding control of Kamchatka before Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom came on tv Sundays at 7 p.m.
These days of breathing the same air as my sister and brother were the whole point of our road trip, in fact. When there are people in the planet who have known you since you came out of the chute and since your very first game of Chutes and Ladders, the feeling of being with them cannot be replicated by anyone else. We may not see each other all that often, yet we know each other intimately.
That’s the thing about siblings, in most cases: we are with each other from cradle to grave. Certainly, there are estrangements, deaths, traumas, and separations that can interfere with life-long connection. But when the Universe allows, siblinghood can be a great gift.
Because cradle to grave is powerful stuff:
Our siblings push buttons that cast us in roles we felt sure we had let go of long ago – the baby, the peacekeeper, the caretaker, the avoider…. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time has elapsed or how far we’ve traveled. – Jane Mersky Leder
Our siblings. They resemble us just enough to make all their differences confusing, and no matter what we choose to make of this, we are cast in relation to them our whole lives long. – Susan Scarf Merrell
Sibling relationships…outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, loyalty and distrust. – Erica E. Goode
We know one another’s faults, virtues, catastrophes, mortifications, triumphs, rivalries, desires, and how long we can each hang by our hands to a bar. We have been banded together under pack codes and tribal laws. – Rose Macaulay
Certainly, people can get along without siblings. Single children do, and there are people who have irreparably estranged relationships with their siblings who live full and satisfying lives, but to have siblings and not make the most of that resource is squandering one of the greatest interpersonal resources you’ll ever have.–Jeffrey Kluger
If parents are the fixed stars in the child’s universe, the vaguely understood, distant but constant celestial spheres, siblings are the dazzling, sometimes scorching comets whizzing nearby.–Alison Gopnik
We know that young babies, as they become capable of moving voluntarily, will share. They will share food, for instance, with their siblings and with kids that are around. They will sooth. If they see somebody else in pain, even the youngest of toddlers will try to reach out and pat the person.–Paul Bloom
It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea. – Dylan Thomas
It was the sibling thing, I suppose. I was fascinated by the intricate tangle of love and duty and resentment that tied them together. The glances they exchanged; the complicated balance of power established over decades; the games I would never play with rules I would never fully understand. And perhaps that was key: they were such a natural group that they made me feel remarkably singular by comparison. To watch them together was to know strongly, painfully, all that I’d been missing. — Kate Morton, The Distant Hours
Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring, quite often the hard way. – Pamela Dugdale
We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.–Erma Bombeck
There’s a sort of sibling moratorium when you’re establishing yourself as an adult. So much of your energy has to be focused on other things like work and kids. But when people become more settled, siblings tend to regroup because now you’re building a new extended family.–Jeffrey Kluger
There was something about the people you grew up around, the ones you’d seen throughout your childhood, the folks you couldn’t remember not knowing. Even if the past was a complicated mess, as you aged, you were just glad the sons of bitches were still on the planet.
It gave you the illusion that life wasn’t as fragile as it actually was–and on occasion, that was the only thing that got you through the night. — J.R. Ward
People talk about the happy quiet that can exist between two loves, but this, too, was great; sitting between his sister and his brother, saying nothing, eating. Before the world existed, before it was populated, and before there were wars and jobs and colleges and movies and clothes and opinions and foreign travel — before all of these things there had been only one person, Zora, and only one place: a tent in the living room made from chairs and bed-sheets. After a few years, Levi arrived; space was made for him; it was as if he had always been. Looking at them both now, Jerome found himself in their finger joints and neat conch ears, in their long legs and wild curls. He heard himself in their partial lisps caused by puffy tongues vibrating against slightly noticeable buckteeth. He did not consider if or how or why he loved them. They were just love: they were the first evidence he ever had of love, and they would be the last confirmation of love when everything else fell away. — Zadie Smith, On Beauty
And that’s another reason this recent road trip lodged deeply into my heart.
It let me touch, once again, the people who are my first evidence and who will be my last confirmation.