When I was in church as a kid, I learned how to laugh uncontrollably while miraculously avoiding detection and making absolutely no sound. I also learned how to discreetly pass notes and share private jokes while others around me were blissfully getting their worship on unawares.
This was because of my brother and our efficient, highly-refined communication and church-laughing protocol. Being a 10 year old in church is not always particularly inspiring, and it can be quite tedious. While it was crucial not to fall out of favor with our parents and publicly humiliate them, we still needed to find an outlet for our pent-up mirth and irreverence.
Nobody else needed to know that we found our pastor’s nasal pronunciation of the oft-uttered word, “Loo-rrrrr-d,” to be hilarious. Every once in awhile, our mother would shoot us a “Shape-up-or-ship-out” glare, but I’m sure there was a part of her that was grateful we were at least enjoying one another’s company.
Our childish bickering was probably the bane of her existence back then, though with the aid of her grandparental rose-tinted lenses, she has mostly fond recollections of her 1980s parenting experience. But I remember. There was nothing she loathed more than the sound of our arguing. I remember her requests for us to, “not fight all day,” on special occasions; it even prompted me to write this post last week:
When my brother and I were not arguing, or more accurately, when our fighting had led to our separate bedroom banishment, after having been booted for failing to adhere to the “mealtime should be pleasant” guidelines, we formed an alliance against our parents. Years later, I often wonder if this was really an attempt at reverse psychology, a bit of sneaky parenting on the part of our mother, or if it really was an unforeseen side effect of our punishment.
Our bedrooms were next door to one another, and after having been forcibly sent there by our parents, we would lie flat on our stomachs and talk to each other through the vents. We thought we were supremely clever, united in our distaste for our parents and their bothersome rules. Truth be told, while we did argue, we also played together much of the time. Though we didn’t become truly close until we were teenagers, most of my favorite childhood memories involve my brother.
This was a worry of mine, having children that were 5 years apart in age. My brother and I were less than three years apart, a spacing more conducive to playing together. I was secretly hoping our second child would be a girl, thinking that perhaps having two children of the same gender would increase the likelihood of their closeness given the age difference. Would they play together? Would the fact that their interests and abilities were so different make their closeness an impossibility?
When my second child was just weeks old, her big sister began to “play at her,” as playing with a child who has little head control is a daunting task. She would drag her bouncy seat around and narrate adventures, having secured the most cooperative playmate imaginable. When Sophie grew older, became mobile, and developed an irritating tendency to ruin Izzy’s big ideas, playing together became a tad more frustrating.
We found that there were certain toys or activities that our girls, a toddler and a first grader, both inexplicably enjoyed. The sandbox, the water table, the playground, and most significantly, the play kitchen. We had taken the giant plastic kitchen structure out of the rotation when Izzy outgrew it after preschool. On Sophie’s first birthday, we pulled it back out, certain that she would delight in opening the little cupboards and manipulating the play food for hours on end. We were right.
What we didn’t expect was that Izzy would enjoy it just as much as her one year old sister. She managed to orchestrate an elaborate game of restaurant one night, albeit filled with much annoyance at her bumbling little sister’s independence.
“Jane,” she bellowed, calling her sister by her middle name for the sake of theatrical authenticity. “These people want a cheeseburger!” Sophie toddled around, running in the opposite direction. “Jane,” Izzy tried again, becoming increasingly frustrated, as though supervising an employee who was exceedingly stupid or possibly drunk. “You’re fired, Jane!” she exploded, having hit her limit.
It seems most of our daughters’ play time is evenly balanced between harmony and struggle. I suppose this is just as typical with kids who are closer in age. As for the Partners in Crime phenomenon, I have even observed this dynamic in our children; Izzy is quite fond of goading her sister into engaging in inappropriate behaviors, or coaxing her to repeat “suggestive” words like vagina. “Hina, hina!” Sophie will crow and Izzy will laugh with the glee that only a mastermind can appreciate.
Though I feel annoyed when our oldest child attempts to collude with her younger sister in a deliberate snub to the parental unit, part of me is relieved and even proud. Isn’t it the job of the sibling duo to flip the proverbial bird to mom and dad? Shouldn’t they band together in their rebellion?
I try to imagine what it will be like when we have an angsty 13 year old who is irked by her eager 8 year old sister, or a college freshmen who leaves her junior high school sibling behind. (Sniff, sniff.) It is a great hope of mind that they continue to find ways to unite, even if it is in a childish act of defiance. I can only hope that through the years they find a way to transcend their developmental differences and find closeness, as I did with my brother.
Sidenote: I totally wrote this post from jury duty, waiting for my number to be called.
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