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We asked, you answered: What are some weird things you have in common with a sibling?

Photographer Tommy Trenchard (above) and his sister share the ability to pick up almost anything with their toes. Nothing is too remote a possibility for their dexterous foot digits, including a remote control.
Aurélie Marrier d'Unienville
Photographer Tommy Trenchard (above) and his sister share the ability to pick up almost anything with their toes. Nothing is too remote a possibility for their dexterous foot digits, including a remote control.

The Science of Siblings is a new series exploring the ways our siblings can influence us, from our money and our mental health all the way down to our very molecules. We'll be sharing these stories over the next few weeks.

Many of you — those who are toe-picker-uppers as well as those in awe of this skill — have enjoyed the story about traits siblings have in common, like unusual digital dexterity.

And yes it's not necessarily coincidence. It's possible that genetics is partly responsible, suggests Nancy L. Segal, a psychologist at California State University, Fullerton. "Just by chance, siblings can inherit the same combinations of genes from their parents to give rise to these unusual kinds of behaviors," Segal suggests. "Or it could be that this trait was in their family generation years ago and for some reason was unexpressed."

We asked readers to share stories of sibling similarities. Here are some traits that came up, from career choices to dressing alike to ... eating bologna. (And a special note to all those readers who say that picking up objects with your toes is nothing special: Just read this first entry.)

Toeing the line

Several of you wrote in with variations on the toe theme.

"I am not lying. It happened," writes Ellen Flournoy from Squamish, British Columbia. "There are three sisters out of four in my family who can all pick up anything with our feet. Our mom can do it, too. And we know where we all inherited it — my late maternal grandmother, my nan. One time, my sisters and I were at her house, and a Georgia palmetto bug (If you don't know them, look them up!) crawled out onto her kitchen floor. My nan streaked across the room and stomped on the palmetto bug with her bare-a** feet. We could hear it crunch from where we stood. She then picked the dead bug up with her TOES and hopped on one foot over to a small basket garbage can and dropped it in there. We were all struck speechless and have talked about it ever since."

Joel Hollon from Pensacola, Fla., writes that his cousin shared a talent during the pandemic. "Her friends' shocked responses confirmed just how uncommon her ability to interlock her TOES — as one would do with their FINGERS — was! In her decades of existence, she had never met another person with the same ability. But then, her relatives from across the country responded to the thread by outing themselves in with photos and videos showcasing — you guessed it — their same "uncommon" talent!"

"My sisters and I can pick up lots of stuff with our toes," writes Andi Smith from Portland. "Two of the three of us are phenomenal at finding 4+ leaf clovers, which is a trait we share with most of our cousins, too. We don't need to even look for them. We can spot them while walking by, only slowing down to lean over and pick them."

This ain't just bologna

Food idiosyncrasies seem to run in families. "Okay, not my sibling, but my uncle and I ate bologna the same strange way," writes Leslie Lee from Yuba City, California.

1. Fold the slice in half.

2. Take one bite out of the middle. Open it and look through it to bug your sister (my uncle) or mother (me).

3. Return slice to folded position and alternate bites along the fold until you complete that edge.

4. Fold in half again. You now have a triangle. Eat, nibble, the rind edge first, then eat the rest.

The first time I ate bologna this way my mother came unglued – she had only ever seen her brother eat bologna that way. I don't remember how old I was, but I had to be pretty young, maybe 4? We lived in California, and my uncle lived in Texas at that time. I didn't understand why it was weird until I was older. The last time I saw him, at his home in Missouri in 2005 or so, we ate our bologna while everyone else laughed. Sadly, he passed away about a year later, but I remember him, and bologna, fondly!"

Anthropology, Inc.

Career choices are what ties Rob Lusteck of St. Paul, Minn., to his siblings. "I thought I'd share an odd sibling thing," he writes. "I was adopted as an infant, grew up with a great family, went to college, and ended up with a Ph.D. in anthropology, which I now teach. In my mid-30s, I was contacted by a guy who said, 'I think I might be your brother.' Turns out, my birth parents had 3 more sons, all raised together. And all of them ended up going to college and majoring in anthropology. We share a number of other traits, but that to me was always the one that stands out as incredible."

And in case you're wondering about the parents, Lusteck adds: "No other anthropologists in the family. My father was an urban planner, my mother was a stay-at-home mom. As for the birth parents, bio-dad is a professional musician, bio-mom has retired following a long military career."

Doggone it!

Saying hi to Fido seems straightforward – but is it? Janet Macunovich from White Lake, Mich., describes the way she's always done it. "When I pet a dog – really pet and scratch, not just pat in greeting or acknowledgement of presence – I roll my tongue and hold it clamped in my teeth. It is a lifelong habit that I cannot break. I thought it was mine alone until one day when I was 40-something I noted my brother doing the same thing. I have 6 sibs and upon discussion determined this quirk is limited to Rick and me. Or so we thought until I saw a photo of our dad playing with one of our childhood dogs. There was the tongue roll."

Subtraction infraction

Math class was a source of both similarity and suspicion for Anodyne Lindstrom from Orange County, Calif. He writes, "I remember in grade school my (twin) brother and I would be accused of cheating off another in math class, since we would take a test and both of us would get the same problems wrong (down to the same wrong answer). We also both subtracted backwards and it drove the teachers nuts and didn't show the work she wanted to see. Basically, a problem like 37 - 8, she wanted us to do the ones digit 7-8 first, notice you can't do it, so borrow a ten from the 3 and make it 17-8 (=9). Without instruction or even communicating to each other, both of us learned to reverse the subtraction order of 8-7 to get 1, then take that number off of 10 (so 10-1 =9) to get the ones digit."

Sleeping mode

Sleeping habits are something Jeanine Maddox has in common with her sister. She writes from Harrisonburg, Va, "My sister and I are very different in many ways, physically, mentally, emotionally, philosophically. However, when it comes to sleeping, we have a huge commonality. Right when we settle in to bed, we shift and fuss and have to get ourselves perfectly arranged in order to relax and fall asleep – pjs not bunched up around our knees, covers flat (seriously, not a wrinkle) across our chests and tucked under our arms which are folded, pillows aligned just so. We equally annoy our husbands with our routines for a few minutes each night. When we all laugh about it, it makes me feel both quirky and understood, and on the rare occasions that we share a room, I can't help giggling through all of the noise as we get into sleeping mode!"

Leslie Neal from the Bay Area of California says, "The day before my sister's wedding, she, our mother, and I shared a hotel room. We learned that all three of us rub our feet together in the same way before falling asleep. It's a self-soothing technique that we had all been doing since childhood, it turned out."

Nonbiological siblings also share features

And sometimes DNA has nothing to do with it. Joyce Yager from Christchurch, New Zealand, writes, "When my sister Amanda (27) and I (33) were growing up with a landline at home, our mom used to say she couldn't tell us apart on the phone because we spoke exactly the same way and sounded the exact same. She also loved to talk about how Amanda learned to walk from watching me and how from behind we walked exactly the same way and how funny she thought that was. I love thinking about these little quirks because Amanda was adopted and I am a bio kid. Our mom passed away a few years ago, and I've moved but I love the little treasures of memories like this that make me feel close to Amanda and our mom's memory."

Clothes and coffee

Gemma Clasing, Bel Air, Md., has flavorings and fashion in common with her sibling. "My younger sister (by three years) and I both like to adjust the driver seat in a car farther forward than necessary. We both like hazelnut coffee but nothing else hazelnut-flavored. We both love to sing. Back in high school we both used to come out of our bedrooms to find we were inadvertently dressed alike. It drove us crazy!"

Miriam Leibowitz from Nashville and her sister also dress alike. "My older sister and I (six year age gap) often show up to events wearing unintentionally matching outfits. We met at the local botanical garden yesterday and we were both wearing pink tops and khaki green bottoms. We both wore polka dotted dresses to my high school graduation. Sometimes we've checked in to make sure we won't have matching outfits, since it's happened so often."

A sibling materializes – and so do similarities

Long-lost siblings helped Kelsey Cosimeno feel connected to people in a way she never had.

"In 2020 I learned that I was somebody's long-lost sibling. A lot of somebody's. That's the year I learned that I was conceived via sperm donor and I found myself in a sibling pod of about 16 other siblings at that time. Suddenly, I found myself comparing lots of similarities with these new siblings," says Kelsey Cosimeno in Hudson Valley, N.Y. " She had a lot in common with one sister. "We each worked in at least two different sporting goods stores. . We're both very emotional and sensitive women. We each have deep and complicated bonds with our mothers and our paths to those complicated bonds even mirrored each other, beyond each of us having the experience of discovering the truth about our conception from a source other than our mothers.

We obsess over ideas and have the same sort of nightmares that wake you out of your sleep. We have a couple of the same favorite songs and books. We laugh over the same nonsense, and I can tell when she thinks she's laughing at her own jokes because I laugh at my own jokes. Of course a lot of that could be chalked up to just coincidence. Regardless, I cannot express how comforting it has been to find so much familiarity in someone. It's like being understood without having to explain myself."

Copyright 2024 NPR

Gisele Grayson
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