Monday, October 7, 2013

The Secret of Siblings

Sometimes on the weekends it feels like my family is walking on a cracking ice field, one step away from being swallowed whole by the glacier. By that I mean to say that my older girls have been fighting a lot. Their voices are louder than ever, their bodies are bigger every day, they share a room and a dresser and a closet and a bathroom, not to mention a stubbornness and sense of injustice that one hopes they'll put to good use one day to argue on behalf of the truly downtrodden. As they are still grade schoolers, they mostly argue on their own behalf, and the arguments can feel like major storm systems. The lightning and thunder comes in the form of meanness that they don't show to other people. They are equally responsible for lashing out, and equally cruel.

This is the secret of siblings.

People ask me if they get along, and of course, they do. They enjoy many of the same activities, support each other in new situations, and know exactly how to entertain each other. There are times when they are lost in each other's company for hours. But they also know each other's Achilles' heel. They can hurt each other better than anyone.

I know that they are not unique, because I have not forgotten the way I fought with my brothers when I was a kid. When I was eight and my parents told us that we were going to have a new sibling, I famously said, "If it's another boy, I'm leaving." If I could have made my brothers disappear, I might very well have made that choice.

I'm close with my brothers now, and when I look back, the bad times are certainly out-weighted by the many good memories of growing up in a loving family. The point is that I believe this sibling stuff is normal. But that doesn't make it any easier.

I didn't set out to write about this today. I was going to write about how Ruby and I went to a fabulous art exhibition yesterday: Marc Chagall at the Jewish Museum. There was a family program with a child-oriented guide and interactive art projects that Ruby so enjoyed: she made a puppet and painted a picture inspired by Chagall. She also got to try on a larger-than-life super-cool backpack puppet, courtesy of the Puppeteers' Cooperative.

It was the perfect activity for both her and for me, as I love to visit galleries, but rarely do, and she loves to make art at any opportunity. Best of all, we got to talk about Chagall, and laugh at the self-portrait of him as a goat, and enjoy lunch in the cafe, all without any arguing or fighting or distractions from her siblings.

Oh, no. Did I just say that? Yes, I did. The outing was great because Ruby and I did it alone. It worked out that way because Bella had a birthday party, and Louisa was home napping. We could have had a great time all together, for sure. But it would have been different, and it would inevitably have been less calm.

Bella and I had alone time yesterday, too, when I took her to swim practice on the subway at 6am, followed by breakfast. I don't even mind getting up 5:40 because I enjoy the time with Bella. That is a Sunday ritual that no doubt will stay with both of us forever.

It's really difficult to find time to spend alone with my children, as any parents who are outnumbered by their kids know. I'll take the opportunities when they come.


  1. My husband and I got to spend alone time with our youngest this past Sunday. It was great and amazing how different his behavior was when he didn't have to shout to be heard over 3 older siblings!

    1. I know! What a difference. I'm one of four and I know how rare those moments are. Nice that you were able to make it happen.


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