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People often express surprise and a bit of wonder when I tell them I come from a family of six girls. The most common response is akin to expressions of sympathy for my dad. It’s true. He was certainly outnumbered but trust me when I say he gave as good as he got! He may have had, however, some inkling of what he was getting himself into when he married our mother since she herself comes from a family of eight girls. Not a male child in sight. Mom’s maiden name evokes an Irish heritage and St. Patrick’s Day is always celebrated with an exchange of feisty, funny cards and often a gathering in one of the sister’s homes. Irish décor can be found in every one of their houses and it goes without saying that green is a favorite color.

My maternal grandmother was a little bit of a thing. Short and petite (lucky if she weighed 90 pounds dripping wet) she was blessed with a beautiful head of auburn hair. My dad loved to tease her and its amusing to me that one of his nicknames for her was the Old Battle Ax. (“Oh Richard” she’d say). My Grandma Monnahan did not have an easy life. Grandpa Monnahan struggled to support his family and often fell on hard times (he was a sawyer too and was instrumental in directing Dad toward that occupation – something my father did for fifty years and dearly loved). He died in at the tender age of 52, leaving Grandma to raise five daughters still at home, the three youngest under the age of ten. Sadness would strike a few years later when Grandma died in her mid-fifties as well.

Despite these hardships, this clan of eight — dubbed the Monnahan Mafia by my Uncle Ole (most certainly not Irish!) – was and are a joyful bunch (the eldest, Geri, died a few years ago). Holiday parties, weddings and family reunions are a mix of crazy, zany, silly fun, fun, fun. Laughter — always laughter! These women love to cook and garden and some of them enjoy knitting and quilting. Music was an important part of their lives as well. Rosie plays the accordion, piano and organ. Nancy, the guitar. Linda played the trumpet and Randi, the French horn. A special memory is the eight of them singing Irish Eyes are Shining as they gathered around the piano for Mom and Dad’s 35th wedding anniversary.

In August Mom and three of her sisters will travel to Ireland for the first time. I’m thrilled for them and can only imagine the mischief they’ll get themselves into.   Mom and Rosie are in their seventies and the two youngest ‘girls’ are in their late 50’s / early 60’s. I am so glad they are planning this trip. It’s sad that they couldn’t have all gone earlier. In any case, these ladies are wicked fun and it will be an adventure of the highest order. The Emerald Isle may never be the same again!

There are six girls in our family of which I happen to be the eldest. (Cue the snare drum — I also like to joke that while I’m the shortest of the bunch I also happen to be the cutest, smartest and most modest but I digress).

To say that we’ve been close would be a bit of an stretch. Our familial ties have been strained over the years due to the usual sibling rivalries, petty fighting and misunderstandings. Add to the mix that each of us is so incredibly different from the others and it’s no wonder tension is sometimes in the air at holiday and other family gatherings. For many years I felt jealousy, resentment and not a little confusion whenever I observed sisters from other families who were close knit or who proclaimed to be ‘best friends’. What on earth was wrong with US I’ve often wondered.

Over the last several years I’ve come to understand why the tension and distrust is there. And while I won’t delve into the reasons for our discord (let’s just call it family dynamics and leave it at that!) I am happy to report that our relationships have steadily gotten better over time. Not ideal but definitely improved.

Two of my sisters and I spent a pleasant afternoon at a local winery today, joined by one of my sister’s friends. As we discussed some of our family history and the evolution of our sisterly bonds it was fascinating to learn that this woman’s family (and its underlying dynamics) weren’t all that different from ours. I recently chatted with another friend who reported similar disharmony between her and her sister. While it is sad to consider siblings not being each other’s greatest champions and defenders it’s also somewhat reassuring to know that my family — our family — is not so different from many others. Perhaps those Hallmark moments I’ve observed outside my own family circle that I yearned for all these years don’t tell the whole story. Things aren’t always what they appear to be.

It’s gratifying now to reestablish our relationships with each other discovering mutual interests while respectfully acknowledging those areas where we otherwise part ways. We have that joint history together — rainbows, laughter, warts and all — good times and bad — that only us girls gets or understands. And in the process I like to think we’re making some new Hallmark moments to hold on to and cherish that will sustain us going forward.