Eight years ago, Shannon Lynch Siegler, now a mother of three in New Jersey, invited her somewhat estranged brother to move in with her family. She didn't see him often, but she wanted him to help care for her newborn son.
"I can't imagine how life would be today for either of us if we had not re-found each other through my son," Siegler wrote in response to an NPR query. We were looking for a family that was struggling in difficult economic times, but one where siblings were helping each other make it through.
The brother, Chris Lynch, now works at a cell phone store in a mall in Woodbridge, N.J. But eight years ago, Lynch had dropped out of college and was living with his mom in a small, upstate New York town where, at least according to him and his sister, there wasn't much of anything going on. He saw his sister, Shannon, maybe once or twice a year. She and her husband were about to have a baby.
Although Shannon was working for an insurance company and her husband was an employment lawyer, child care seemed unaffordable.
I didn't "want to leave my newborn with a stranger," Shannon says. "I was working in [New York City] and my husband was working in Hackensack, [N.J.]."
As for Chris, he was feeling frustrated.
"I was pretty much directionless," he says. "I had done some college, but I didn't really feel the need to do more, especially living in that area, nobody went to college. People just did a lot of blue collar jobs, and I knew I didn't want to be that, but I didn't know what I wanted to be."
So his sister Shannon and her husband, Steve, decided to invite Chris to move to New Jersey, to take care of their son. Chris was really a big kid himself. But would he be responsible?
"I wasn't exactly sure how he was going to react to it," Shannon says, "and at this point, I didn't know him that well any more. He was my brother, and I saw him on occasion, but I wasn't close, close with him."
As for Chris, his first thought was, "Oh, crap. Nanny? Really? I didn't think I was good with kids. I have no idea how to change diapers. I don't want to touch what comes out of there," he laughs. "But then I kept thinking about it. This is really kind of a way out of what I am doing right now, and it gave me kind of hope to do something else."
Helping Each Other, Becoming Best Friends
Chris and Shannon describe their family background as bleak. Their father was an alcoholic; their mother was depressed.
"Although I don't think we would have identified that as kids," says Shannon. "We just knew that in some ways they weren't reliable."
Shannon was attempting to rescue her brother from continuing in a sad cycle. Chris felt alone, emotionally abandoned, and he wanted more but didn't know what.
As it turned out, Chris was meant to be a dad. "It was one of the first few things I really loved staying with," he says. "As I did it, it became easier; it became a really joyful job, one of the most rewarding jobs I ever had."
Now more than money or status, Chris says he wants to be the "dad I didn't have" for his own kids. His sister says, "I can't imagine what his life would have been like if he had stayed [where he was]; we would not have this relationship."
Today, the two consider themselves best friends, as well as brother and sister.
'Some Kind Of Achievement'
Charlie, the kid Chris moved down to take care of, is now 8. On a Friday night, he is practicing the cello, while his younger brother and sister are drawing. Pizza is in the oven. And Shannon, her husband and the boys are all getting into their uniforms for Cub Scouts. The parents are Cub Scout leaders.
Life isn't easy. Shannon and her husband, Steve, are having economic difficulties. The people Steve defends in employment discrimination cases often can't pay their bills. The family is going through debt consolidation. Their entire pension is tied up in their home, which has lost a lot of value in this economy.
At the same time, Chris is going through a divorce; he has a 5-month-old, a new family, and four kids in all. His ex-wife is going through bankruptcy, and there's lots of debt.
Yet Shannon smiles when she thinks of how her brother has changed, and that she might have played a small part.
"If you're truly a friend and you're truly someone who loves another person," Shannon says, "you want them to be able to be what they can be. Maybe not every single thing they can be, but that they can get some kind of achievement that will make them feel proud of themselves and their life, and you want to see that for them."
When you look at these two families, you notice something else. Besides trying to give their kids the best life possible, these people still have their own dreams. Besides repairing cell phones and taking care of his kids, Chris is writing a suspense novel.
When asked what her dreams are for her brother, Shannon says, "I would like to see him be the author he wants to be."
With the love and support of a sibling, who knows what dreams can be realized?