See Yourself in Others

Over the holidays, we were very fortunate to have all of our immediate family in one place. That rarely happens nowadays. We typically spend December 24th at our grandmother’s house. We have cousins who live in our hometown that also have an open house on December 24th. In years past, we’ve done some ninja calendar management to make it to both houses in one night. This year, we weren’t really up for the challenge. Our younger brother took a slightly different approach to managing his family’s social holiday agenda. He came to see my grandmother a little earlier in the day, and then while the rest of us stayed at Nana’s house into the evening, he took his kids to visit our cousins at their holiday open house.

Something that I think is interesting about our family is that all four of us siblings have BPES. For my dad, only some of his siblings had BPES, while others did not. Likewise, for most of our cousins, not everyone had BPES. My sister and I were the first females in our family to have it. We thought that it was a sex linked genetic mutation, but my sister and I are proof that it is not! Our cousin, who lives in our hometown, has BPES along with his son and daughter.  His kids are slightly younger than my siblings and me so we were never in school together, but we aren’t too far apart in years. Oftentimes growing up, people in town would know that we were related because of our eyes. Complete strangers, like high school students working in the grocery store, would ask us at the check out, “Are you so and so’s cousin?” Until my brother’s daughter was born last year, I always felt a somewhat special bond with our female cousin because we three were the only females in our family with BPES. Now we are four! Still in the minority compared to all the male uncles and cousins that have BPES. The point being whenever someone on my dad’s side of the family has a child, we all wait in anticipation to see what their eyes will look like.

This holiday, it got me thinking, I wonder what it is like for our brother’s kids to see examples of people who look like them. Growing up, we were constantly exposed to family in our town and in nearby towns that looked like us. My brother lives many states away and his kids don’t interact with extended family as often as we did growing up. What is even more interesting is that not all of his kids have BPES. Of all our siblings our younger brother probably has the least pronounced BPES in his eyes. Growing up, we thought we were normal in part because we all looked alike. I never thought that it was anything special because all my siblings looked like me too and I spent most of my time with them as a kid. We just knew we had smaller eyes than most people, but we were like our dad. And lots of our uncles and cousins had it too. No big deal. We often had interactions with people who looked like us – completely affirming our identity and sense of self. We had a tribe.

I wonder if my brother’s kids even notice that two of them have small eyes and one of them does not. I’m curious if they even noticed when they were at my cousin’s house last month that my cousin and his kids look like them. I’ll have to ask my brother if this ever comes up in conversation. There’s a lot of discussion in various contexts about the importance of seeing someone like you in a given role or situation. It then helps you visualize yourself being able to be in that role. Did seeing my cousins help to normalize being small eyed for my brother’s kids? Or did they not even register it as they were chasing down cookies, hot cocoa, and candy canes and were too busy being kids? Hmmmm…


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