SieffstarGroggy from an early morning start and seated — thankfully alone — in my aisle seat, I rub at my eyes as our plane descends on Chicago.

Archived Story

Jessica Sieff: Scenes from a siblinghood

Published 12:10am Thursday, September 2, 2010

“Oh my gosh Mark!” says annoying woman in seat 14D. “Look at that! Is that Chicago? Is Chicago right on the edge of Lake Michigan!? I had no idea!”

Coming home is never as easy as leaving it.

“Wow, look at that!” annoying woman continues as if she were the personification of an exclamation point. “Look at that beach! I’ve never been to Chicago before! I want to get ‘Oprah’ tickets before she goes off air. Look at that beach! There’s nobody on it! There are no boats in the water either. Oooh, a Meijer! Meijer, Mark!”

I want to turn around and tell Ms. So Excited To See Chicago that there is no possible way at our altitude that she could realistically see anybody on the beach or the water. I also want to tell her it’s a Tuesday, so beach attendance could be understandably light.

Actually, I want to throw my water bottle at her head and then tell her that.

Instead, I close my eyes and try to travel back in time…

Some months ago, I mentioned my younger brother had been assigned a tour of duty in Iraq. Those plans were — thankfully — changed. But alas, my little bro is still preparing for a one-year tour at a base overseas. It’s not as bad as it could be, but last week’s trip was a chance to spend a final few moments face to face with both my brothers before an ocean — once again — separates us.

And must say, I like all three of us a lot better now that we’re grown up.

It’s funny, as kids, my older brother was the one who helped me develop my fear of confined spaces when he wrapped a blanket around me and sat on me until I said “mercy” or “uncle” or possibly until I just flailed about in a terrorized panic to get free.

Full of bravado and competitive spirit, I exacted my revenge by making the vein in his head pop out when he would invite me to a game of basketball and I’d quit just as he gained a lead.

When he joined the Air Force we weren’t very close, but I can still remember the road trip from my college dorm to home when I realized that he just might be the coolest guy I’d ever met. When I realized that if I’d been looking for a role model — he was right next to me introducing me to a new band and telling me that it isn’t as hard as it might seem to be away from home.

You’re always just a plane ride, a railroad or a road trip away.

Now he’s always introducing me to something. A band, a restaurant, a television show or a way of thinking.

My younger brother was another story. Seven years apart, at first he was the cutest thing in the world. Like a real live teddy bear. But as we both got older, I was always just impatiently waiting for him to catch up with me. To grow up already.

He became one of my best friends, of course, because he’s easy to love and he’s still sort of teddy-bearish when I need him to be.

Now he’s growing up and I wish he’d just cut it out already.

They’ve gone from being annoying boys who have never looked happier as when they are picking on their sister to my favorite boys. Real-life bookends on either side of me — holding me up one way or another.

After about an hour delay in my connecting flight home, a small group of frustrated passengers piled into a plane that was entirely too small and stuffy to make any of us feel comfortable.

I closed my eyes and tried to put myself back in my brother’s living room.

I’m never quite as motivated as when he’s around, explaining the goals that he set for himself and the work he put forth to achieve. While discussing his workouts he suggests getting out of the restrictions of indoors.

“You’ve got to go outside,” he says. “Stuff like that needs space.”

I think about space as I hug the window seat in the puddle jumper aimed for home. I think about it as I unpack my bags and I think about it as I mentally unpack my mind for the week and the challenges ahead.

Sometimes you need space. Space from expectation so the goal can breathe. Space from what fears you so you can focus on and rise to the challenge. Sometimes you need space from everything you have been to get a little closer to what you can be.

Space from the annoyances crawling into your ear and shouting about the amazement that is Chicago.

But if there’s one thing I’ve figured out as I’ve gotten older it’s that the space between family is just a matter of distance.

And thank God you’re only a plane ride, a railroad or a road trip away.

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. Reach her at jes sica.sieff@leaderpub.com.

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