Sibling Rivalry, a Lament
I didn’t think it would be like this, that my love for each of them, so fierce and unique, wouldn’t be contagious among them.
I didn’t think it would be like this, that my children would fight so much. I wanted a big family to stand over, the captain of a team, not a referee endlessly blowing my whistle on the fifty-yard line of their rivalry.
I didn’t think it would be like this, when my belly started to swell only a year and half after our first son was born. I chose for them to be close in age, I believed less time between them, less air, would create intimacy, like a vacuum. What more beautiful gift to give a two year old than a baby brother?
I didn’t think it would be like this, that they would be so different. “Chalk and cheese,” as we say in Britain, “apples and oranges.” Both fruit, but the juice doesn’t run the same. Intense, focused, solitary meets quirky, frenetic, outgoing; introvert rubs against extrovert. A strange irony that the qualities I relish in one are the very thing that drives the other to distraction.
I didn’t think it would be like this, their dynamic so repetitive, so predictable it defies logic. The same scenario played over and over again, the dance they do. The younger one goads, the older one lashes out. He’s annoying me. He’s hurting me. It’s a tired record, but it keeps on spinning no matter where I put the needle.
I didn’t think it would be like this, that our third child would be two children, that the way they vied for space in the womb would become a template for all that came next. A tug of war so intense it kindles in me anger, the hotness of which I have never felt before in my life. Bicker, squabble, tussle, tangle, twins who inspire a veritable thesaurus of fighting words. This is mine. No, it’s mine. Value defined solely by another’s interest.
I didn’t think it would be like this, the little ones locking horns with the big ones. Leave each other alone! It’s my mantra in moments when they are four strong, a policy of disengagement, of splendid isolation, the ticket to getting us through the next meal, the next outing. How many times a day do I say it, do I shout it, in a voice shrill and shredded, a voice I hardly recognize as my own? Don’t. Even. Look. At. Him.
I didn’t think it would be like this, my husband and I cleaving the family in half to buy a weekend’s respite. He takes two and I take two so the siblings nearest in age get a break from the all-consuming-ness of their relationship, so we get a break from it. The animating cliche of our parenting not “safety in numbers,” not “strength through solidarity,” it is rather sadly: “divide and conquer.”
I didn’t think it would be like this, that my love for each of them, so fierce and unique, wouldn’t be contagious among them. That their care for one another would sprout, haphazardly, in the cracks between their impatience and resentment. That it would manifest itself in headlocks more often than in hugs. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference, true enough. But aphorisms are cold comfort when your first son is telling your second son he wishes he was never born.
I didn’t think it would be like this, that we would be so close now. She used to pin me down, knees pressing hard into the flesh of my upper arms. She used to lock me out of her room, a lonelier kind of hurt. We fought with purpose, we did: fistfuls of hair, perfectly primed insults. The last time it was physical we were in college already, too old for me to be chasing her up the stairs, ripping a shoe off her foot, because, well because it was mine.
I didn’t know it would be like this, that thirty-six years later my sister would be my best friend, the joint curator of the antiques of our past, the only other product of our idiosyncratic parents. I didn’t know it would be like this, how much I would cherish her simply for being the witness to my childhood.