Hey there! I'm Vivian. Sometimes I write about life and sometimes I write about teaching.

For my 40th birthday (ten years ago), my sister and husband threw me a party at our house. Forty was a big one, so everyone was invited. One of my dear friends I’ve know since 8th grade, Tammy, came in and struck up a conversation with my brother.

“How do you know Viv?” she asked.

“I’m her brother,” Jeffrey answered.

“No, you’re not,” she insisted.

“Um…yeah, I am.”

“I’ve know Viv since we were 13 and she doesn’t have a brother. She has two sisters.”

I actually do have a brother, which I eventually confirmed for my baffled (and embarrassed) friend. I was racked with guilt in that moment. It took me years to forgive myself, maybe I never really have. You see, I do have a brother, but he’s not related to my two sisters. Before he was married, he thought it was funny to joke that he could actually marry one of my sisters. (I didn’t think it was funny.) He also likes to tell people, “Oh, that’s my sister’s sister.” (That one is a little funny.)

So how did my friend who had known me for close to 27 years not know that I had a brother? My brother is my half-brother and my sisters are my half-sisters and they don’t share parents. That’s the short version of my family tree. Of course people would ask me to tell them more and then get confused when I tried to explain who all our parents were. In middle school, when I met Tammy, I was the new kid at school and I didn’t fit in for so many other reasons. I didn’t want to also be the one with the complicated family tree. Instead I found it easier to explain the ones I was living with at the time, easier to avoid the question I had no answer to, “Where is your mom?” My brother was living with my mom and stepdad somewhere in the world. No one would ever interact with him. And that’s how it was for years.

At the time my brother and I were separated from each other, he was only 7 years old and I was 13. I wouldn’t see him again until we were 14 and 20 or maybe 15 and 21. It wouldn’t be another year or two until I saw my mom and stepdad again. This was way before the time of emails, Facebook or even My Space. (I’m aging myself aren’t I.) I had no physical address for him or our parents so we were completely out of touch for all those years. As a teenager filled with insecurity and repressed feelings of abandonment, I tucked that part of my life away. If I never had to explain it, then I would never have to confront the reality of it.

How I reclaimed my brother will have to wait until the next post while I sit with my feelings for a little bit.

Map of my parents and siblings
  1. arjeha says:

    Families and family trees can become complicated. One of the reasons I never asked any of my sixth grade students to do a family tree.

  2. Your 40th birthday seems to be giving you an unexpected gift, the chance to “sit with your feelings” on this complicated issue. I am serious- I feel certain you will be so glad for this change in time and relationships afforded by being 40, beyond those uncomfortable years. I like your choice of the word “reclaim.” I hope you will write more. I also applaud your illustration of your family tree. It took me a moment to see the brilliance of your watercolor halves!

  3. onathought says:

    I love that you included a family map here too – It can get confusing for sure – but it’s so nice to learn about the way that people’s families are built!

  4. nawalqcasiano says:

    Every family is different and often, complicated, but more importantly, you are sitting with your feelings on it all and your sharing with us is a gift. I LOVED this beautiful family tree image at the end. Did you hand draw? My great-uncle had a gorgeous family tree in Bahrain of my dad’s side of the family — but unfortunately there are no females on the tree! Unacceptable -ahh, the patriarchy. Appreciate this post, V!

    • vivian chen says:

      No females? Absolutely unacceptable.
      I did draw the family tree. It’s a sketch that I’ve replicated several times for my father-in-law. My stepson, an artist, asked me why I didn’t do the colors side-by-side instead of top and bottom. 🤦🏻‍♀️ Probably would’ve looked better. LOL

  5. Love the family map. Our family is complicated also. I have 2 biological daughters and a third daughter adopted from China. We also discovered my daughter who was adopted has a biological sister who was also adopted from China. So my third daughter has 3 sisters-the two she grew up with and a bio sister she did not grow up with. I loved reading your slice today!

  6. cmargocs says:

    I can understand the compartmentalizing; this is a tangled family tree, and lack of communication didn’t help. It does make for interesting party banter…

  7. The family tree is a wonderful compliment to the slice you’ve shared with us. Families are complicated (the understatement of the year) and sometimes, we have to compartmentalize for our own good. When the time is right, we allow ourselves to process through and go forward. It’s not easy, that is for sure and you’ve shown, even at 50, those feeling are intense.

    Thank you for sharing this with us today! ♥️

  8. […] you haven’t read part 1 or part 2, what you need to know is that my brother and I were separated when we were 7 and 13. We […]

  9. britt says:

    Love this! I have a half sister, and I HATED having to explain we had different dads. She lived in my house – who cares about the “half” part?? LOL. We were not close at all, but have become very close now over the last few years. Thank you for sharing this!



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