Few people make me laugh the way my family members do, especially my sister. Sometimes all it takes is a look or a single word to remind me of something from our childhood, and we break into hysterical laughter. We’re doing a lot of that these days, having converged at my parents’ house for a family reunion. These gatherings have become increasingly infrequent since I moved to the west coast and she moved to Europe. However, we do our best to make up for lost time, and just as the adults do, our children, who are close in age, pick up where they left off.
My sister has always been very good at stepping back and analyzing our interactions objectively. She often has insights that the rest of us miss, and she reminded me about a recent email exchange that summed up our family dynamics in a nutshell.
My father was away during April and May, and he and my mother kept in touch by email while he was gone. My mom forwarded us his emails and threads of responses back and forth. One email she sent him included an internet-circulated story about hope and change illustrated by the life history of eagles. (Snopes  has a version of the story). The story was based on nonsensical statements about eagle biology (e.g., an aging eagle beats its head against a rock to break off its old, damaged beak so that a new one will grow back in its place). I think my mother was less interested in the details about eagles than about the story’s message that casting off the old can be painful but that change brings renewed life. As is typical of Mom, she saw the big picture and the potential life lessons.
My father, an avid birdwatcher, would certainly have recognized the factual inaccuracies in the story. However, never one to rock the boat or generate conflict, he simply wrote back: “Thanks for forwarding the article on the eagle. Very interesting!”
Unlike Dad, I don’t know when to keep comments to myself. I’m always a critic and scientist, and I ruffled a few feathers when I wrote back: “
Wow! There's some bizarre stuff on the internet. Bald eagles' beaks becoming too curved? (Funny, that was a picture of a golden eagle, not a bald eagle). Knocking them off by banging their heads on a rock? That was totally crazy!”
To which my mother responded: “Liz, I am not going to send you any more of my old lady stories!”
The brief exchange among us was far more interesting than the eagle article, as my sister’s reply reminded us: “Thanks to everyone for this very entertaining read this morning... laughing a lot! I do love my family!”
She’s right—it’s not about the eagle article, but about our dynamic as a family. We’re so good in our family roles that we don’t realize what we’re doing until one of us remembers to take a good look and laugh at ourselves. I’m glad my sister plays her part so well.