Article 1 – Sibling Distance Rewrite – 10/10/16

The phone stops ringing and at the top of the screen, it says: “Tiffany Facetime unavailable” and with a sigh, I tap the cancel button. Within the next minute, the ringing is back and it’s my little sister Tiffany FaceTiming me back.

This year, Tiffany is a sophomore at the University of Omaha. I tap the answer button. She is wearing a towel and in the process of drying her hair. It’s 11pm. She likes to shower late, just like when all of our conversations happen. Late.

Yet, once the other answers it’s like we aren’t even apart. It immediately goes into a conversation about her day and others just to catch me up on her life. Some days there just isn’t time for us to talk. “It’s really hard being here,” Tiffany said. “Hard because sometimes I just want to talk to someone who understands everything about me, but I can’t because our schedules are different. When one person is free the other isn’t or sleeping or working . . . it’s just hard.” It’s the really bad days that get us to call each other.

Long-distance sibling relationships aren’t your typical relationships because casual relationships fade over time, while sibling ties are forever. When you stop seeing a friend and you meet back up sometimes the relationship is still there but other times, the connection is gone. You don’t really have that problem with siblings; it’s the family connection, blood ties. Whatever you’d like to call it, it’s like how that saying goes: “You can’t choose your family.” You don’t have to talk or interact often because no matter what family ties last.

Brayton Hagge, in her last year of college at Morningside, has a younger sister, Keely, who just started college at Doane. It was between Brayton’s classes when she got a call from her sister needing to talk to her as soon as possible. That’s what’s so good about a cell phone because it keeps you in constant contact with those you love.

Brayton agrees that sibling conversations are never chit-chat, it’s always: I had a really bad day can you listen to me? or Oh my god! This just happened! or This just happened to me! or even Hey, I just wanted to hear your voice.

Those are the only times Brayton hears from Keely, and I agree because those are the times that I hear from Tiffany. It’s the dramatic moments or the big moments in life that make long distance sibling relationships hard because you’re only in contact with those moments. Even when you do get to hear about what happened it’s a couple of days late.

Jordan Heim a resident assistant (RA) on Morningside’s campus is trained to handle problems such as homesickness. The summer before the year starts, he and the other RAs go to training, where they are given a calendar of the year of when the students are more likely to feel certain emotions such as depression, stress, and homesickness.

“You eventually get to know your residents,” Jordan says. “You all live together, so it’s easy to get an understanding of people and their day to day life.” This is Jordan’s second year as an RA. Being a returning RA, he notices more details in his residents, new and old, every year. After talking to other RAs, a big indicator for when something is wrong the resident will stop acting like themselves, they’ll start skipping classes, and do things that they don’t normally do. Also, friends of the resident will even tell their RA that their friend is acting up and these are all warning signs that something is wrong.

Not only are RA’s trained and advised about what emotions will hit at a certain time. RA’s are trained to see the warning signs of certain ailments. For homesickness, residents will begin to isolate themselves from others, keep friends distance, keep communication to a minimum, and overall not be themselves. RA’s are trained and taught to get to know their residents and to listen for certain keywords that students will say. At this point, RA’s would just check in on the resident, engage in some friendly conversation, and just see how things are going. Just being friendly and letting them you’re there for them is a helpful way to battle homesickness.

Telby Madison, a part-time Iowan from Minnesota, thinks a little differently. His home in Minnesota, where his brother lives, is six hours away from Telby’s Sioux City home. He says he talks to his younger brother, Tyber, once or twice a week via phone call, snapchat, or text message. “I think it’s relaxing,” Telby laughs at the distance between the two. “This means I don’t have to deal with Tyber and his nonsense.”

Distance with siblings is a part of growing up and it can’t be avoided. You go to the same elementary school but are in different classes, you make your own friends, you choose your own fields of studies, and you choose different schools. Yet every step of the way, your sibling is there.

There are ways to adjust to the distance such as setting aside time during the day to make plans to talk. Texting is also an option but it can be harder because other things can distract you while you’re texting, while a phone conversation is in the moment with the person.

Jordan, while communicating with a student who may be showing some symptoms for homesickness, will use a technique residence life taught the RAs in training called: verbal judo.

Verbal judo is a communication technique used to communicate with residents and is mainly used one on one to see how the student is doing. There is a difference between small talk and asking how a resident is doing, verbal judo is used when an RA is worried that the resident is isolating himself or herself. When using this technique, the RA uses careful words when communicating when talking to the resident and embracing the silence for reflection on both parties. The silence that would be considered ‘awkward’ is encouraged here because it opens a channel of communication that allows the resident to think about their feelings before sharing with their RA.

The distance of being in another state is the silence for siblings with such different schedules. “This time, when we’re away, it’s permanent because you never know when you’re going to see the person again,” Tiffany says. I agree, you never know the next time you’ll see or even talk to the person. You can make plans, but sometimes plans fall through.

Keely and Brayton for example, Brayton was studying abroad in Northern Ireland last year and because of that, she had to miss her sister’s high school graduation. It wasn’t an intentional to miss her graduation, it just happened that way. Keely was mad, but because they’re siblings they got over it together.

Yet, with the distance and silence being a problem it also brings people together.

“Now that Keely is in college it’s easier for us to better relate to each other because we are dealing with the same challenges,” Brayton says.

Telby says, “Being apart has made our relationship better and I appreciate him [Tyber] more when I do spend with him.”

My FaceTime conversation with Tiffany has changed from crying about how hard the past week has been, to the happy things during the day, to the funny stories of the dog she dogsits, and to how we can’t wait to see each other again. The conversation takes a pause to collect our thoughts to see if either of us is forgetting something.

My sister breaks the silence first. “Hey, I’m getting sleepy. Thanks for talking to me,” she says.

“No problem. Good night.”

We blow each other kisses and then we hang up. Distance doesn’t get easier, but it’s all just a growing process. Some days are better than others, but family will always be there for each other. Being on our own is just learning how to be independent adults that and sometimes we need that distance from what makes us comfortable. And sometimes we just need someone to hear us.

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