My mom thought she didn’t get to spend enough time with her siblings growing up. That was one of her big reasons for homeschooling us. (Read this post for another reason she homeschooled us.)

I got to spend a lot of time with my siblings. And honestly, it was great. Being with my brothers was one of the best parts of being homeschooled. I make plenty of carefully balanced arguments about the benefits and detriments of stuff like not having to do math all the time, sleeping late, focusing intensely on the arts, and wearing that skintight purple tee-shirt that said “Homeschoolers learn everywhere!” on it. But there can’t be any debate about this: being with my brothers all the time was awesome.

I have two younger brothers, Jake and Gabe. Jake is three years younger than me, and Gabe is six years younger than me. They are best friends with each other. They are also friends with just about everyone else, since they both turned out gregarious, cool, and unfairly good-looking. I am without a doubt the nerdy one. Which is why I am blogging, while they go to parties. Kidding. Sort of. OK, not at all.

(my brothers, doing the same thing)

My mom will hate that statement. She hated it when people said, “So Kate’s the artist?”

“We’re all artists,” she responded.

It was annoying, since clearly, I was the artist. But she’s very insistent about not labeling people, especially when they’re really young.

Jake and Gabe and I have always been close. We are a team. Even now, we can’t keep secrets between the three of us (if Jake tells me something, I’ll probably tell Gabe, and I tell Gabe something, he’ll probably tell Jake), but we will guard those secrets from the rest of the world with our lives. Jake calls me from conservatory and we talk for four hours at a time. Gabe calls me from college and we talk about things I can’t talk about that way with anyone else.

(cracking each other up)

As little kids, we invented alternate personalities with bizarre voices, and drove our parents insane, communicating with each other for days without breaking character. When the three of us get together, it’s still kind of like that. We’re weird. We’re incredibly weird together. It’s like being in a secret club, though, where everyone wants to be weird in order to be a part of it.

My brothers are both musicians. They play the same instrument and they studied with the same teacher. People always assumed they must hate each other for it. And occasionally they did, because, you know, they’re human. But mostly they defended each other, and after every performance, they’d vouch for each other, “He was great. I didn’t hear any missed notes. His tone was amazing.” They toured Europe together, playing duets, backed by a chamber orchestra.

(this is them performing at my wedding)

Mom had always wanted to go to Europe. And then Jake got invited to tour. She was thrilled. When she came back, she said, “Well, I’m glad I got the chance! I’ll never experience anything like that again!”

And then the next year, he soloed with another group. She tagged along. When she came back, she said, “Twice! Unbelievable.”

And then Gabe and Jake were asked the next year.

My brothers have seen a lot of Europe. I have not, because I was working and couldn’t go.

My brothers were child prodigies. They were always winning things. They went to classical symphony concerts and operas for fun. Tonight, actually, they’re coming into the city for the second time in two weeks to see another opera at the Met. They will spend all of their money on the Met.

My brothers are exceptional, but they never seemed to want to look like intense, brilliant musicians. They wanted to look like…well, normal guys. And they did that easily and thoroughly. They played sports, worked out, and went to movies with heaps of gratuitous violence. I yelled at them for being sexist. I yelled at them for being thoughtless.

But really, they’re turning out fine.

(the three of us. someone gave them ridiculous sunglasses and they are modeling them.)

My brothers are hilarious. Viciously witty, too quick to keep up with, and simultaneously warm and friendly. They’re two of my favorite people. I’m astoundingly proud of them. Which is why I spent a lot of this piece bragging about them. But I can’t help it. This is not a subject I can talk about in a measured tone, and I hope it never will be.

Going to school doesn’t mean not getting to know your own family. It doesn’t mean not becoming good friends with your siblings. But being unschooled means getting the chance to hang out with them all the time. To learn with them the way kids in school learn with their classmates. To learn with them in ways that classrooms can’t really ever encompass. Being unschooled means living together during the day as well as the evening and the winter as well as the summer. Not knowing that you’re supposed to be divided up into grade levels and younger kids are supposed to be boring and older kids are supposed to be off limits. Being unschooled means being in it together. Every day.

And I am so thankful that I got the chance to be with my brothers like that.

18 comments to Siblings

  • Loved this. I have one daughter (Currently 10) with three little brothers, and I love it when they play for hours and she doesn’t know it’s not cool to not be totally engrossed in an imaginary game with the 2 year old.

  • I love this post so much!! Firstly, because it always makes me really happy hearing people bragging about their siblings with obvious love and pride, and I hear/see it far too rarely. Secondly, because I relate to what you say in this post SO MUCH! My sister (two year younger than me) is my best friend in the entire world. We share obscure inside jokes and TV show references that no one else gets. We’ve been known to burst out singing the same song at the same time entirely out of the blue. We almost always understand what the other one is trying to say, even if we’re being really confusing about it. We tell each other pretty much everything, and we’re just incredibly close.

    I attribute this largely to the fact we got to spend so much time together growing up. Otherwise, I doubt we’d be as close as we are now.

  • this is the sweetest tribute to your brothers!

    I have brothers….my childhood was nothing like that :)

    you are lucky Kate!!!!!!

  • I loved this post. We homeschool, and my children are 5, 8, 15 and 17 (girl, boy, girl, boy.) I notice in an age where most siblings (especially brothers and sisters) do NOT hang as best friends, mine do. What’s more, when my teens were asked to perform in a dramatic production opposite each other (Mary and Joseph in a church tableau), in a scene where my son had to put his hand on my daughter’s shoulder, … they weren’t all “weirded” out about it – in fact, he squeezed her shoulder slightly to help ease her stagefright jitters (I found this out later). I was very proud. I think that homeschooling is the BEST thing you can do for sibling closeness… kudos to your mom!

  • LOVED this!! I am a hsing/unschooling mom to (so far) 2 kids and they are the same, absolute best friends. And I hope it always stays that way. I also love that they will grow up close and without the divisions that traditional school imposes. I love reading these experiences from grown homeschoolers and can’t wait to someday hear it from my children when they are grown :)

  • This was just amazing. I am an unschooling mom to five. My kids fight but, mostly get along with each other, defend each other and laugh with each other.

  • Wonderful! My two homeschooled children and I were thicker than thieves! I loved being with them, and got lost in those moments between them when I was but a fly on the wall! Though they were four years and a chromosome apart, they were the best of friends. Just yesterday, a request for information prompted me to post my motivations for homeschooling @

  • I envy your relationship with your brothers, and such fine brothers they are. You should write a book about unschooling from your point of view. Btw, this reminds me that I haven’t heard from my brother for years now, and that doesn’t even bother me. I don’t hate him or anything, we’re just not close, almost like strangers. And yes, I think it’s because of school. I and my brother got a little carried away by the socialization rules at school (boys don’t play with girls, don’t play with bigger/younger children, etc.)

    • Same with me. Although i talk w/ my siblings (i have 3) often, we are not close. My 4 children are…basically because we unschool. I want to see them best friends forever. :) I hate the socialization rules at school. It can lead to alternate lifestyles if not worse.

      so much fun to have found your blog.

  • oh my. so very pleased to know of you. can’t wait to get to know you. this post on your brothers was a great start.

    i follow Lisa Nielsen. her post on unschooling brought me here.
    i’m on a mission to unschool public ed.


  • Jane E.

    I love this post! It really hits home. : ) I have two sisters, one 2 years younger, one 5 years younger, and have a really close relationship with both of them!
    My youngest sister (the one who is 5 years younger)recently started going to school (by her choice), and every once in a while I can see the influence of the “it’s not cool to like your family” thing that I think some schooled kids have going on. Luckily it doesn’t seem like she really believes it, but I can still see the behaviors sometimes.

  • I just discovered your blog and am so delighted that I have. I enjoy your perspective and look forward to reading more. This particular post touched me. I have 2 younger brothers myself and sadly, as much as I would like, we are not close due in part to being ‘schooled’. I wish we had been homeschooled. I have 2 children of my own (8 and 6) and though they are yet young, I can tell the bond is there. She doesn’t resent being with him like many of her ‘schooled’ friends do their younger siblings. TFS

  • Laura

    I know this is kind of after the fact, but I found your blog today and have been reading through lots of the posts, and this one really struck a chord with me. I’m the oldest of ten kids (six boys, four girls) and though we went to state schools (and, in fact, to two different single sex Catholic secondary state schools (in the UK)) we spent a lot of time playing together as kids even once we got older, perhaps because we never had many scheduled activities- my parents were a lot more likely to kick us outdoors to amuse ourselves, and we were lucky enough to live in a quiet part of the city where it was safe to roam around playing, so there was a lot of unstructured time. Anyway I definitely know what you mean about siblings as a unit. Now I’m 25 but my parents still have kids of elementary school age and they come to stay with me like I used to go and stay with my big cousins :-) My next brother down has house-shared with my boyfriend and me for the past two years which has worked out really well- my mum loves it, she says she must have done something right if we still want to hang out together as adults!

  • Thanks again for participating in the Unschooling Blog Carnival!! I love this post. Reading about your love for your siblings just warms my heart! I’ve sent the link to my own kids (22, 20, 17)
    Hope you’ll participate in the March Carnival too!
    Thanks again!

  • I love this post. Keeping my boys together is one of my favorite things about unschooling. Their friendship is so special, and something I never had with my siblings.

  • I have two boys, three years apart, and we’ve been unschooling all along. So many people are often astonished at how well they get along and how much they “seem to” love each other. The love is real, man! :)

    And it’s a wonderful thing.

    Take care,

  • Free

    Love this. :)
    I am unschooling my daughter and her 4 younger brothers. I so want our family to be close always.

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