A shared childhood


A shared childhood is a hidden language made up of gestures, glances, raised eyebrows, isolated words and uncalled-for laughter and tears; spoken only by those initiated into the years when memory draws every event in primary colors outlined with thick, black lines. It is a language that can never be translated into another tongue or life; it is time enfleshed in the child.


“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” may seem like an easy question to most people, but for me it is complicated and difficult. Mother had eight living children over a span of 25 years. I grew up knowing the oldest; she was 15 years older than me. I lived for a while with the youngest, my brother who is 10 years younger than me. And I shared my childhood with my sister, K, who is 18 months older.




She was the golden child, tall, pretty, and smart, who charmed the aunts and uncles. I was not.


We played together, sometimes peaceably. She carries small scars from times I scratched her; I suffer with writer’s limp because she broke my arm. She’ll deny it and say the earth broke my arm; she merely sent me aloft in a childish game of push-up. She has always had a problem with reasonableness.


When our father died, K was ten and I was eight. She left childhood then, although I didn’t know it at the time. K took responsibility for me while mother dealt with her grief. And once the grief passed, mother began barhopping in search of another man. All those years, I thought my sister was just being bossy, still pushing me, not up, but around.


We spent our growing years together parsing the world, trying to understand its meaning. And because our mother played the central role, our childhood is our mother tongue.


Just as we inflect words, or modify them, to express a change in tense or number, the stories we now tell are inflected with memories that signal to the hearer a change in mood or meaning, but only to those who learned the language with us.


The story of my broken arm is one I love to tell, but only if my sister is there to hear it or read it. In some other language of childhood, it could be parsed as blame, but in my own mother tongue, it is part of the grammar of love.


Happy Birthday, sister.



32 thoughts on “A shared childhood

  1. Happy Birthday to your sister today. Hope her arm-breaking days are many, and hope that every one of them will be filled with an abundance of smiles and laughter and love. After all, you’ll need more stories to tell. Somewhere between the smiles and laughter, the love will surely find its way to the page. It always does.

    and as for you …
    in any language,
    your words
    are a refreshing cool drink
    on a hot summer day.

    another non-golden child

    we may not have been golden,
    but that doesn’t mean we can’t shine

  2. For me the tale was one of love and sorrow… a bit like the sweet and sour sauce at the chinese restaurant… maybe because of the mood I’m in as I read it… but because this is a blog, and comments are allowed, I can’t pass by an opportunity to thank you for your writing, which so often moves me, and touches me in the most beautiful way.

  3. kkkkatie

    My Dear Little Sis, For the unexpected grace of trusting me with your words so many years ago, I will always be your biggest fan. For the delightful surprise of your words today, I am honored and blessed. For the memories of a shared childhood, I am finally content, for they had their part in making you the incredible woman you are today and giving you such stories to tell. And for the privilege sharing the joys and sorrows life continues to deliver to our hearts, I am profoundly grateful. Of all the sisters in the world I got the punniest, slyest, wryest, off-the-wallest! What better birthday gift is there? Love you, K

  4. I always love your writing— you never cease to surprise and delight and amaze me.

    Today, I’m geeking out over your tone and your pacing. This piece is practically tonally perfect, and the pacing is so even you could set a metronome to it.

    And the sentiment is so beautiful. I will take my cues from ShimonZ here— there’s some bitter with the sweet, just like real life. Gorgeous. Happy birthday, Katie!

  5. Talk to me...I'm your Mother

    It’s a language that cannot be translated…so true. It also cannot be successfully learned. Too many nuances carried by glances, sighs, titters and untold stories. Lovely post. Makes me think of my sister.

  6. “The story of my broken arm is one I love to tell, but only if my sister is there to hear it or read it.” So true. My siblings are brothers, so I know too well that all the bruises and skinned knees were acts of love. Thanks for sharing.

    • I think having siblings is like being through the war together. 🙂 You share experiences that no one else can ever really understand because they weren’t there. Thanks so much for reading.

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