I spent much of my early teen years yearning to differentiate myself from my family. In a smallish town, as one of four sisters, it was hard not to be recognized as a girl with the "Phillips" look. I got used to people stopping and doing a double take, or talking to me as if they knew me when I'd never seen them before. "No," I'd say, "I'm not THAT sister." At family reunions, I liked looking around at my cousins and seeing my own features mirrored. But much as I admired my parents, my sisters, my aunts and uncles and my cousins, I wanted to make my own place, my own life, my own identity.
When I took off to university in Ottawa and then to teach as a volunteer in Lesotho, Africa, no one recognized my family connections. Success! I thought. I was only me. My family was a quaint background story, but I was making my own way.
They say that it's healthy for teens to search for themselves and be willing to take chances to create themselves. That's why the frontal lobe of teen brains is underdeveloped. (That's the part that controls impulse and risk, that sees consequences.) If we knew what might happen, would we ever do what we do as teens? I look back with stunned surprise at my willingness to do dumb things just for the thrill when I was 17. I'm also somewhat stunned that I survived it.
I'm glad I took some of those chances, and that I went off and found out what I could do by myself. But now I'm also immensely grateful for being a part of something bigger.
My family gathered last weekend for a reunion at my sisters' beautiful log cabin in the forest. We barbecued trout, we swam in the lake, we bushwhacked through the woods on walks, we rode bikes down long dirt roads. We talked about the fun and irrational things we did when we were young. And through it all I felt the draw of family. We are close in age, and as we became adults, people have had an even harder time telling us apart. But we are quite different in many ways. While we share values and early experiences, we have also gone our own ways in the world, and each of my sisters has shaped the clay of our family into their own sculpture of who they are.
And now I love these photos where we look the same. Family matters.
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