Authentic Eagles: Siobhan Kelly on Being an Older Sibling

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic.

Siobhan Kelly, A&S ’15

My earliest memory is of my brother, Michael, being born. I remember walking to the hospital, hand in hand with my cousin. I remember my uncle scooping us up and pretending to throw us in the fountain outside. I remember opening the door to the delivery room and running into my Mom’s outstretched arms—the best feeling in the world. What I don’t remember was my initial confusion about who the baby was. Apparently, as Michael cried and cried, I demanded to know who “the baby’s” Mom was. “That baby is crying because he wants his Mommy,” I told everyone. As my grandpa began to explain that the baby and I shared a mom, I shouted, “No, that’s MY MOMMY!” and jumped right back up on the bed with her. As a two-year-old, the idea of sharing my parents, my friends, my toys—my entire life—with someone else was almost unimaginable.

My attitude quickly changed, however, as five days after bringing Michael home, I nearly killed him in an attempt to share. While he was napping, I took everything from my bed and piled it into his crib, burying his tiny newborn body in a pile of my fluffiest stuffed animals. Although my mom tried to explain to me why it was sincerely dangerous to heap things on top of a sleeping infant, I firmly disagreed with her, saying,  “I want him to meet all my friends!”

The phrase 'smothered with love' really comes to mind here, and it set the tone for my brother and my relationship growing up. I dragged him everywhere I went, and he happily ran alongside me. We did everything together—attended the same schools, played with the kids in the neighborhood, rocked out on air guitar in our make-believe band, slept in the same bed every Christmas Eve, and played basketball, baseball, and hide-and-go-seek outside for hours.

His influence heavily contributed to my tomboy phase (which lasted five years too long), during which we shared a seemingly endless collection of Under Armour basketball shorts. The only exception was ballet, which I took on my own. However, not to be completely left out, Michael would pick me up dressed for the occasion—pink tutu over his blue jeans, barney slippers on each foot. He always wanted to do whatever I was doing, and I always wanted him there, too.

It wasn’t always easy though. While Michael and I had always maintained an extremely close bond, other relationships began to falter within my family. With my Dad gone for months at a time battling depression, and my parent’s eventual divorce, things at home were tough. On top of all the changes, like switching houses, and the responsibility of keeping both parents equally informed, Michael was struggling with an extreme case of undiagnosed ADHD, and reacting to everything accordingly. Yelling matches and fights between him and my mom were a daily occurrence, and I often retreated into the privacy of my bedroom in an attempt to find some quiet and focus.

In a turbulent environment like that, I know it would have been easy for me to fail. If I began to do poorly in school, would my parents have noticed? More importantly, would they have been able to help me, seeing how many other things they were trying to deal with at once? Probably not. And it was this knowledge, along with my sense of dutiful love towards my younger brother, that made me strive to excel.

I wanted to show him that we could do it; we weren’t going to be those kids whose shortcomings and poor behavior were excused because of “trouble at home.” We didn’t need the pity of parents who stood on the playground talking poorly about other families. Sometimes, there are things so much mightier than yourself that you can’t help but falter, even collapse, under their weight. But I didn’t want to stay down for long. All Michael and I needed was some love and encouragement, which we found plenty of in one another, and within our changing family.

All through high school, I worked and worked to get to where I am now. I played a sport a season, was senior class president, and overcommitted myself to everything and anything, including schoolwork. One o’clock a.m. was a pretty standard bedtime, simply because I had so much to do. I was the eternal designated driver, and never touched drugs, not because I felt especially strongly against them, but because I literally thought to myself, “How am I supposed to tell Michael not to do this if I do?” Call me ridiculous, obsessive, neurotic, whatever—it’s safe to say that most of the good decisions people have credited me for I made because of my little brother. In my life, it has truly been my role of “older sister” that has defined me more than anything else.

So now comes the tough part. As I enter my senior year of college and begin to think about the future, I find myself being unable to rely on my brother—his support, admiration, and needs—as a crutch. He was accepted to his dream school two years ago, conquered his first year away from home, and is truly thriving. He doesn’t need me to guide him anymore. In fact, I don’t know that he ever really did. It almost seems as though I, unknowingly, needed him much more than he ever needed me. After nineteen years of secretly attaching my identity to his, I am now faced with the daunting challenge of figuring out who I am, rather than who I think he needs me to be.

Perhaps the reason that I’m struggling with this so much is because this realization has hit me during senior year, aka, “The time in your life when you freak out because you have no skills and no talents and why would anyone want to hire you?!**” More coherently stated, it seems that with the end of college comes the end of the “right path,” or, society’s definition of what makes a person successful. From here, one can go in an infinite number of directions, with nothing defined as the universal “next step.” Honestly, this terrifies me. I’m used to having a plan, an idea for the future, something to show Michael exactly what needs to be done. But the truth is I have none of these things—no plan for myself, no example that needs to be set for him.

With all of this uncertainty lying ahead of me, one thing remains clear: I know the girl I needed to be for Michael. Now, it’s time for me get in touch with the woman I want to become for myself. Maybe these two parts of myself are, in essence, the same, or maybe they’re as distinct as night and day. Whatever the case, I know that through all of my trials and errors, I’ll always have an awesome younger brother who supports and loves me unconditionally.

So thank you, to Michael, for being the best brother in the world. A part of me wishes that you could stay my baby brother forever; hiding dinosaurs in the VCR, tripping over your Winnie the Pooh boots, sitting in the passenger seat as I drive you to school, (this girl totally gets what I’m talking about:, but I know that would be selfish. I hope that you, and everyone else I know, have enjoyed my relatively smooth ride thus far, but I’m here to tell you to fasten your seat belts. I have no idea where I’m headed. And, for once, I’m ok with that.