North State Voices: Heads bleed a lot, and other sibling lessons

Chico Enterprise-Record

Posted: 03/21/2013 12:00:00 AM PDT

O'Hanlon Siblings

When I was a kid, whenever we drove together as a family, my brother and sister and I were all in the back seat, for better or worse.

I was the youngest, so I always had to sit in the middle — sometimes serving as a buffer between the siblings, sometimes serving as an instigator to all.

I came to love being close to my siblings, though. When we finally bought a van, I rode home in it in the far-back seat all by myself, and I didn’t like it because I felt so far from everyone.

As the youngest, I’ve never known life without siblings. Many of my personality traits seem to be directly linked to my place in our family. Because Julie (six years my senior) and Jason (three years my senior) were good older siblings, I came through life feeling loved and included — something I know not every child feels.

Once when we were home alone together, I recall discussing whether pepper really makes people sneeze like cartoons suggested. We decided to conduct an experiment to find out. Julie (a teenager at the time) and I emptied pepper from the shaker into our palms. Jason, though curious, decided that watching would be sufficient.

Julie and I tried to smell the pepper, but it’s more accurate to say we snorted it. It was a mistake. We screeched in pain and shock, pushing Jason out of the way so we could get to the kitchen sink, where we greedily took turns using the spray faucet to wash out our nostrils to try to stop the burning sensation. Jason was dying of laughter as he watched, and we screeched in pain and laughter, too.

I still sometimes do absurd things in the name of curiosity. Jason still watches and takes pictures claiming he “knows better.”

One evening when I was 2 years old, Jason was pulling Julie and me around in our little Red Flyer wagon, running as fast as he could. We were all giggling with little-kid glee, but upon rounding one of the corners of the “racetrack,” our speed was too great, the turn was too sharp, and Julie and I tumbled out of the wagon.

I fell right on my head, and blood started to leak out of my blonde hair, covering it, my clothes and everything in crimson.

It sufficiently terrified my poor dad, who carried me inside — his 2-year-old baby — bloody and crying. Luckily, the fall just cut my scalp, and no major damage was done. I remember it being painful, but I don’t recall the incident ever keeping me from wagons or any other playing adventure in the future.

That’s one thing I learned from (and with) my siblings: To play hard means sometimes getting hurt, and that’s OK. That, and heads bleed a lot.
I recall my brother sending me back inside when I was 2 to put shoes on before he would let me jump off the swings or jump out of the tree. The way my parents and siblings treated me made me feel protected, but never stifled from adventure.

I’m grateful to both my siblings for the ways our childhood adventures together shaped me into the woman I am now. They found roles for me to fill in their individual lives and hobbies, and they let me discover myself and rooted me on in my own life and ventures.

Julie passed away when I was 14, so I was only a kid while I knew her. She taught Jason and I many things, and her life continues to shape who I am, but I’m sorry she isn’t still living the sibling story with us.

Jason and I still carry on the sibling bond: supporting each other, bickering sometimes, having fun together, and just being together.

We know it’s good to be together. As Deborah Joy Corey writes in her novel, “Losing Eddie”: “We are not all of us, but we are what’s left.”

Joanna O’Hanlon is an Oroville resident and columnist for North State Voices, which appears each month on