If fighting over infinitesimally small banalities were an Olympic event my children would definitely take the gold. The more insignificant the issue the more they like to torque it up. They fight over who gets to sit where on the couch. They fight over whether they should watch an episode of “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” they’ve seen 14 times or an episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants” they’ve only seen 11 times. They fight over who gets to use the fish cup when I make them smoothies after school. (Yes we only have one “fish cup” – a cup from the Long Beach Aquarium with fish on it – and I know it would make my life 1,000 times easier if I just got rid of the damn thing!) One of their favorite things to fight over is who gets to wash their hands in the bathroom and who gets to wash their hands in the kitchen when called to dinner. I’m not making this up.
My son Chandler, who is 11, rues the day his 8-year-old sister Marley was born. When she was a baby she idolized him. Her face would brighten up and her eyes would follow him whenever he walked into the room. “Dandlers,” she would call out to him. But Dandlers wanted nothing to do with her. He was still mourning the loss of his mother’s full attention that he had the first 3 ½ years of his life. He was never very nice to Marley, so as she grew older she learned not to be nice to him. She uses words to hurt him and he retaliates by hitting her. Ironically he is the kinder, gentler of the two. I often wonder how different our lives would be if he had embraced her when she was born instead of resenting her.
When Marley was about 6 months old a friend from my playgroup asked me if Chandler just adored his sister. “Actually I think he wishes she’d never been born,” I answered honestly. “Really?” she said seeming genuinely shocked and scrunched up her nose in a really annoying way. “My son just loves his baby sister. He hugs and kisses her every chance he gets.” If I kept vodka in my freezer back then as I do now, that comment probably would have caused me to take a swig right from the bottle as soon as I got home.
Once when Chandler was about 5 I read him a book about jealousy. On one page of the book there was a picture of a girl with her infant cousin and the bubble caption above her head said, “I hate that baby.” “Do you ever feel that way about Marley?” I asked Chandler. “No,” he answered. My heart warmed. Maybe there was hope for peace and harmony in our little family. “You don’t hate Marley?” I asked happily. “Yes, I do hate Marley, but we don’t say hate.” Well, so much for that.
I try to convince my children that the greatest gift one could ever receive is a sibling. Their relationship will most likely be the longest relationship of their life. Their histories will forever be entwined. When their father and I are old and senile they’ll be able to roll their eyes and laugh at us and be each other’s rocks to lean on when we pass. I remind them how close my brother and I are, and how much we love each other, and how lucky we are to have him and his family in our lives.
“Did you and Uncle Richard fight when you were growing up?” one of them will ask me whenever I give this speech, knowing full well what the answer is. “Like you wouldn’t believe,” I answer as I have a bad habit of telling the truth. “Worse than us?” It’s time for me to roll my eyes. “Probably,” I answer, knowing that I’m paying my penance for torturing my parents and some karmic god above is probably laughing his ass off at me. “Tell us again the story about Uncle Richard chasing you into the bathroom and kicking in the bathroom door.” I tell them again for the 1,000th time and they squeal with delight as they share a brief moment of laughter, peace, and genuine sibling love.
*This first appeared in the now defunct skirt.com (and was my very first blog ever) on August 13, 2008