Double Blossom xx – Week 11
My siblings and me in front of the funny ol’ house where we grew up in Hartford, CT. We are four altogether — two girls and two boys. My father loved this. A mathematician, numbers were his thing. Having an even number of girls and boys always made him smile. My little sister and I with ten years between us were the bookends.
The younger me resented having so many siblings because it meant that resources; attention and money, were always tight. We had a comfortable life but I know my parents were always slightly stressed about how many of us there were to feed, clothe and educate. Education was the most important and the one thing my parents did not skimp on.
I know the house looks rather grand and luxurious but it was architecturally weird, which is how I suspect my parents could afford it. It was built in the 1920’s, and the builders made a mistake when they ordered structural timber from the UK. The developers didn’t have time to wait for another shipment so they just made do and built the house with what they had. As a result, that long and formidable looking house was actually only one room deep. Starting from the driveway end of the house, you entered the kitchen, which led to the dining room, which led to the front hall, which led to the living room and finally the family room. So the family room and kitchen were at opposite ends of the house; not very conducive for grabbing cups of tea or snacks. I remember one friend’s father would always tease me when he dropped me off. “Oh it’s time for Chrissie to get her roller skates on.” Humour aside, I always felt that our house lacked a physical heart, something I have worked hard to create for my children in our house now.
Growing up, my siblings and I were not that close for a combination of reasons. The house with no heart played a part. In a way, it was a metaphor for our family. I think my parents were working so hard to build a better life for their children, they overlooked enjoying the life they had. They placed great emphasis on the importance of family, but I don’t actually have that many memories of us all together enjoying each other as family. Outside of Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays, it was easy to lead separate lives in that funny house.
I did not see the upside of having siblings until much later when our age differences shrunk. We were all at each other’s weddings and our spouses refer to each other as the outlaws. We have our tensions and disagreements but despite spanning three continents, we are close and communicate regularly. Social media has helped immensely to reinforce my parents’ original message about family. A family WhatsApp group is how we update everyone, all three generations, on the latest. I still get a kick out of the fact that when my oldest graduated from university a few years ago here in the UK, his eleven year old cousin in New York was able to see him accept his diploma and congratulate him before she went to school that day via WhatsApp.
All nineteen of us, including my 83 year old mother, get together every 2-3 years. Our last family reunion was in Hokkaido where we went skiing a year and half ago. And at least 2-3 times a year, I manage to see each of my siblings. There is reassuring comfort in knowing that my siblings will always be there for me and my children as I will for them and theirs. Now, I feel incredibly lucky to have them.
Lots of love, Xtine.
The above post is part of Double Blossom xx, an Instagram project I started with photographer Christina Wilson Elms during lockdown. Each week we post a photo of ourselves and write a letter to the other on an agreed theme. If you are interested in reading our stories, you can find us on Instagram at Double Blossom xx — Two London sistas share stories about being Chinese in the UK and the US. Same age, same name; almost.