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TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT

Do you ever feel like killing one of your siblings? For those of us whose lives have been enriched with brothers and/or sisters, we feel this way almost every day. Especially during adolescence, as our relationships with peers and parents undergo complicated transitions, our sibling relationships can be tested and ultimately strengthened.

My own family is composed of mom, dad, me and my two brothers. My 13-year-old brother, Devin, and I are pretty close, since we are only 1 1/2 years apart. We do things together -- we go to movies, talk and eat together. We confide in each other. We also, unfortunately, live together.

Ben Fleming has a brother and a sister, Sarah, 14, and Sam, 10. "I usually get along well with my sister," says Ben, "because we have a lot of friends in common." Since Ben and Sarah are so close in age (Ben just turned 16) it's normal for them to be seen hanging out together.

But this closeness has its drawbacks. "We definitely compete with each other more," Ben explains. "Being at the same school, we compare our grades, etc." As for Ben's relationship with Sam, Ben likes "having someone to beat up."

Though Devin and I usually like hanging out with each other, there are limits. The sibling rivalry is much more intense with him than it is with my 6-year-old brother, Harry. Devin and I get into bigger, more vicious fights. We stay mad at each other longer, compete with each other more and mercilessly tease each other. Devin's favorite question is, "Did it suddenly get uglier in here?" which he says when I enter the room. We especially enjoy humiliating each other in front of friends and relatives.

"These are normal emotions, but they can be destructive if not handled properly by parents," notes Susan Alessi, a clinical psychologist who sees a lot of families in her Buffalo practice. "If siblings abuse one another, it can become harmful, but usually this is a healthy way to express your feelings and work out relationships."

Zachary Campbell, 13, usually gets along all right with his brother, Justin, 16. Since Justin attends boarding school, Zack misses him when he's gone for a couple of weeks at a time. But like any siblings, they have their share of arguments. "We don't usually get physical," Zack explains. Their fights usually involve a lot of screaming back and forth.

Such was not the case for Heather Stephen, 27, and her older brother. "My brother and I were latchkey kids, and we did not get along," she says. "We used to fight a lot and chase each other around the kitchen with knives." Today, of course, the two get along very well.

My father had a similar experience growing up. "My older brother and I fought viciously," he says. "I also teased my younger sister a lot," he adds. All three get along well as adults.

My relationship with Harry, 6, is very different from my relationship with Devin. Harry is a major pain in the neck. He jumps all around, cries, screams, pinches me, yells, has tantrums, slaps and whines. I love him anyway.

There are differences between the relationships of same-sex siblings and opposite-sex siblings. Relationships with siblings of the opposite sex are generally less competitive -- you are not competing romantically, and you usually don't compete as much in terms of appearance or popularity.

Ruth Fabiano, 15, doesn't always get along with her older sisters. "There is a little jealousy between us, since we're all girls," she comments.

There is another side to the relationship with same-sex siblings, however. Despite the jealousy and competition that often develop, there is also a special bond, a closeness that can never be achieved by opposite-sex siblings. That is the bond that sisters share, because they are female. That is the bond that exists between brothers, because each one knows what it's like to be a guy.

Age is an important factor in sibling relationships. The older siblings dominate. They beat, blackmail, terrorize, torment and tease. They are the bullies and the meanies. But the younger siblings are coddled by their parents. They are the babies, the cuties, the sweethearts -- and the annoying brats.

In Judy Blume's book "The Pain and the Great One," these relationships are explored from two perspectives. In the first part of the book, the older sister describes what a pain her little brother is. Then the brother, in the second half of the story, describes what a snob his big sister is. Each section of the book ends with the sentence "I think my parents love him/her more than me." Aha! Where have we heard that before?

Sarah Faso, 15, knows the feeling. Her brother Matthew, a sophomore in college, seems to get all the attention. "I think it has helped our relationship that he's in college now," she says. "We get along better when we see each other now because we're not together every day. I actually get a chance to miss him."

Emotional trauma, especially the kind that results from the loss of a close family member, deeply affects sibling relationships. My mother grew up with five brothers and three sisters. "It was pretty much every man for himself," she says. "If you wanted attention, you made your voice the loudest." The situation changed dramatically when my mother's 4-year-old brother was killed in an accident. When her father died of cancer a few years later, the atmosphere was much more reserved. "We were trying to protect my mother," she says. "We didn't fight as much as we would have, maybe, if my brother and father hadn't died." My mother and her siblings are now very close.

Whatever your relationship with your sibling(s), it's important to remember two things: It's only a few more years before one of you moves out, and stuff that irritates you or seems important now won't matter in 10 years.

As for the only children out there, especially the ones who are longing for a little baby brother or sister: Be careful what you wish for -- you might just get it.

Raina Lipsitz is a sophomore at City Honors

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