I am an only child. Which means raising two daughters - siblings - is somewhat of an alien concept to me. I didn’t have to share, my parents didn’t need to be fair or break up fights, and all my toys and clothes were brand new. Since Thumper came along, and especially now that she’s able to communicate better, I’ve been on a steep learning curve.
Most days I feel like Jane Goodall, observing chimpanzees as they carve out their place with each other, pulling hair to get their way, stealing bananas from one another, and shrieking to ward off unwanted behavior. And I don’t mean the monkeys; that’s just a regular day at our house.
When the girls get territorial, I force myself to let them work out their differences rather than go between them. Of course, when there’s violence and unkindness, I step in. Otherwise, these sisters will do what sisters do.
I watch them from the corner of my eyes, sometimes taking notes in my head, sometimes so enthralled, I’m incapable of doing anything but to admire the blossoming of their sisterhood, which I hope will someday become impenetrable by anyone, even me.
Between them, there have been countless moments of utter exasperation for someone like me, who is figuring this sibling thing out as I go, which is not unlike parenting in general, really, except there’s twice the surprise and unpredictability. There’s certainly more of this:
“Look at me!” (or “Yuck me!”, says the younger.)
“I will do this!”
“Ay! It’s my tuhn.”
“No, it’s my turn.”
“I wan’ do this!” And the quick, devious little one does it.
And definitely this, the incessant complaining:
“Mommy, Sissy close the gate! I wan’ go downsteahs!”
“No! I don’t want her downstairs with me. She’ll ruin my castle/train/fort/blocks/ [insert toy du jour]!”
However, there are tender moments in between the rough ones that make me wish I had a sister myself, like when Thumper walks up to Little Miss with food that she herself enjoys and asks in a melodious voice, “Wan’ chai (try) it?”
Or this particular moment, when Little Miss freaked out about a toy that Thumper snatched from her. When asked why she was so upset about something she hardly played with, she responded, “Because every time she snatches from me, I get a belly ache!” (Don’t ask; she certainly has her own brand of drama.)
Upon hearing that, Thumper ran over to Little Miss and handed the toy, “Heah doe! (here you go.) Sowwy Sissy. Dis? (Kiss?)” Then she planted a sweet one on her sister’s “aching” belly, and all was forgiven.
There’s also something breathtaking about a one-year-old who walks up to her crying four-year-old sister and asks, “You otay, sissy? You want toochoo? (tissue) Yeah? Otay!”. She then gets her one and sometimes even helps Little Miss wipe the falling tears on her reddened cheeks.
My heart melts every. single. time. But to both girls, it’s a given. They take care of each other like it’s the most natural thing in the world. As it should be.
Another given is that Little Miss is the boss and teacher, sharing her knowledge and expertise with Thumper whenever she can especially when they’re crafting, coloring, and conversing - “Thumpy, say yes, please.” But what’s surprising is that the younger, who is absolutely in awe of the older, is very protective of her big sister.
When My Guy reprimands Little Miss, Thumper will either smack him or scream at him. If it results in tears, the toddler will sometimes shed her own sympathetic ones for her older sister. It’s quite a sight to see the pint-sized defending the older, taller, and more capable of the two.
Since the girls share a bedroom, they get plenty of time before and after sleeping to talk. While Thumper still struggles in pronunciation, she forms rudimentary sentences rather well, like “I’m tired; I want seep (sleep)” or when I make her laugh, she says, “yaw punny (you’re funny), mommy.” Not perfect, but she’s also a 21-month-old. It’s not going to be perfect for awhile.
In fact, sometimes, we have difficulty understanding her mispronunciations, like this instance:
My Guy: “What’s that?”
Thumper: “Teetums! Teetums!”
She pointed at something on the counter, but amid the mess, we still had no idea what she was referring to, and he turned to me for help. I shrugged and shook my head, and she became even more frantic. “Teetums! Teetums! Teetums!”
Desperate, I turned to Little Miss, who was quietly coloring beside me: “What’s she saying?”
Without a pause and with complete nonchalance, she responded, “She wants the lip balm.”
My reaction: “Lip balm?! Really??”
Both My Guy and I exchanged incredulous glances. Huh. Who’d have thought that “teetums” meant lip balm? Well, apparently, her sister did. All those late-evening and early-morning exchanges in their room certainly helped.
Now, when I don’t understand my little one, I just ask my big girl. Before the secret language between them kicks in, that is. And you know what? I hope it does. I will happily play the outsider if it helps cement their bond together.
Every morning, on the monitor, I hear them waking each other up, both good-natured and giggly, and ready to play whatever game they devise for themselves on the fly. I’ve heard Little Miss teach her little sister a few things, like this instance which brought me out of sleep and immediately into a smile:
Thumper: “Mommy! Mommy!”
Little Miss: “Don’t wake mommy, Thumper, she’s sick. She needs to rest.”
She was referring to my state from the evening before, when I was immobilized by weird stomach cramps.
Thumper: “Otay...Daddy! Daddy!”
Or this other time:
Little Miss: “Daddy’s a....?”
Little Miss: “Yes! Good. And mommy’s a...?”
Little Miss: That’s right. Good job!
I love waking to their conversations, despite the occasional squabble that comes through. By the time My Guy gets to their bedroom in the mornings, Little Miss is often found inside the crib with Thumper, with blankets and plush animals around them, already busy at play when it’s barely 7 a.m. They play hard; they fight hard. These kids, they don’t mess around.
So many of my friends with siblings warned me about the volatile nature of this relationship. There’s a lot of fighting. We hated each other. We’re always competing for everything. This only child can only imagine, but I have no bag of tricks to reach into, no firsthand knowledge of what it’s like. I can only hope that it’s not as bad as they say.
But I’ve also caught glimpses of the moments in between. The gentle, heart-achingly beautiful ones that tell me that either way, I’m in for quite a ride.
* * *
Whether you’re a parent or a sibling yourself, what’s your experience like with siblings? If you have tips and tricks on how to raise them so they would adore* each other (I’ll also settle for “not kill one another”), please share them with me. I’ll take all the help I can get!