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September 14, 2011

Col and Rose have spent almost every waking moment of summer together. And sometimes that togetherness is accompanied by angels singing joyfully about collaboration and kinship. Like when Rose lassoes Col’s leg and drags him through the house on his back like he’s an enormous halibut. They’re shrieking with laughter and I’m stirring something at the stove, thinking they’re so lucky to have each other, while my heart swells in its bony cage.

And then today they’re both stalking around gravely, eyeing each other up like hit men out of work. Rose is in the playroom, alternating between hula hooping and holding her hand over the light switch. “I just want to keep it off, Col! So we don’t waste batteries!” Col is pretzeled into the small space not invaded by an orbiting hula hoop. “But you’re NOT the boss of the playroom!” Col sneaks a leg out in Rose’s direction, a leg one could easily trip over. (The “playroom” also happens to be where Rose sleeps, while Col sleeps in a room slightly larger than a closet, but is mostly “his.” Hello, 800 square foot house). I breeze in all merrily as if I didn’t just interrupt two coiled and poisonous snakes ready to strike. “How about I’ll just open the curtains – that should let in enough light.”

But it’s not about light, really, it’s more about being bored and prickly and staring at the same face across the breakfast table for your entire life while spooning another bite of cereal into your mouth. I have to remember that they see each other differently than I do. To me they’re individuals inside a package—inside the very swaddling blanket of our family—complementary even in their differentness. To each other, they’re contenders. Contenders for parental love, for the equal doling out of grapes, for who gets the best toy at the dentist.

It’s like an arranged marriage—siblinghood—and you’d think that since Col and Rose’s genes were selected from the same soup stock, that they’d be a pretty good match. And really, they are, even if much of what they gain from their togetherness is an understanding of how people are different.

~while Col is scouring the surface of the Earth for treasure, Rose is whirling around performing Act VXIX of her one woman rock opera~

~while Col is single-mindedly building, Rose is apprenticing to the sensory pleasures of life~

~Karen, who lives downstairs and is a love, gave both the kids a can of fizzy water. While Rose was thrilled to sip something fancy out of a can…~

~Col was more curious about how it might react with mud~

If siblinghood is like an arranged marriage, then I wish I could drag Col and Rose to the alter and prod them into pledging to share magnanimously and to not shoot rubber bands at each others’ heads. But even more than that, I’d wish for the waves of their quarrels to wash calmly over me, as I stand stirring something at the stove. Because usually while I’m still wringing my mind over sibling meanness, they’re off playing a new game. 

Yesterday I was telling Rose her birth story, about how Dan placed her tiny self in my arms and how surprisingly plump and dark she was, and how she immediately knew how to nurse and …

“Did I know I had a brother?” She interrupted.

Somehow darling, I think you did.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2011 6:31 am

    It’s the best and the worst of parenting. It’s carved in me a deep ability to allow me to mind my own business. And revel in a joy I don’t own.

  2. Kathy Smith permalink
    September 14, 2011 6:46 am

    Wonderful as usual! We will be in Durango this weekend…..right now we are celebrating our 48th anniversary at Flaming Gorge. I hope we get to see you.

  3. September 14, 2011 8:11 am

    Love this, Rachel. Great perspective.

  4. Peggy kenrick permalink
    September 14, 2011 9:43 am

    Rachel, you couldn’t have put it better. My mother in law describes Charlie and Riley as an old married couple. It’s a love/hate with them. They are best friends, but are constantly in competition. It’s so frustrating for me, and I question all the time how to handle it. Sometimes I just ignore them and tell them they have to figure it out themselves. Sometimes I end up lecturing them on how they only have each other and they need to be thankful for the other, etc.
    Another one of these parenting quandrys which I’m sure I’ll never be able to answer. Thank you, once again, for reminding me that I am not alone in this!! Great post, just perfect!!!

  5. September 14, 2011 10:37 am

    “Like coiled and poisonous snakes ready to strike.” Oh, yes, I know this situation well. And my kids? Would totally have dumped the fizzy water in the dirt … or slipped it to the dog … or bathed their animals in it … or tested it for rug-cleaning properties or …

  6. Ellen permalink
    September 14, 2011 10:42 am

    Wonderful post!

    As competitive as they are, I think Col and Rosie must get such comfort from each other.

    It can be a great blessing when adult siblings are close, I hope C&R will outgrow the competitiveness and remain supportive and close their whole lives.

  7. September 14, 2011 10:50 am

    My kids are 4 and 2 and sometimes they are the best playmates with each other and other days they are screaming over everything. Yesterday we split up and the guys were out for the day and the girls stayed home having a sick/recovering day. After reflecting about the day we realize we all need to have some space sometimes. They didn’t have to share toys, did what they wanted without the other telling them to come do something and they didn’t have to share our attention. It’s hard and beautiful having family close all the time. Thanks for sharing.

  8. September 14, 2011 10:54 am

    I laughed out loud at the photo of Col and Rose drinking the fizzy water together at the little table. Their personalities are painted all over them in that one. They really are lucky to have one another!

  9. September 14, 2011 11:37 am

    Hm. I think if the perfect marriage involved having genes from the same soup stock, they world would be a prickly place indeed. I think of them as lab partners, but one of them keeps knocking over the bunsen burner while the other one is sneaking the magnesium home in his pocket. In the end, lab partners, sibs, old marrieds – we all have to work it out, even if we are halibut in the morning and snakes in the afternoon.

  10. September 14, 2011 2:29 pm

    I love the comparision of ‘siblinghood’ to an arranged marriage…and I love ‘eyeing each other like out of work hitmen…’ so great, Rachael! I am SO picking up what you are puting down! It is a balancing act (like so much of parenting) as to when to intervene, and when to let them figure it out between the two of them.
    Oh, and can I just say that I want to roll around in the red mud along the riverbank?! What a wonderful spot.

  11. rose permalink
    September 14, 2011 2:31 pm

    the intense affection and the fierce loathing are sides of the same coin. as an only child i delight in the expression of both in my children, although the latter can be rather annoying. even if they aren’t best friends all their lives, they will have a shared history and a depth of connection i can only guess at. my husband (one of ten siblings) laughs knowingly at our daughters interactions and i marvel at them like the mystery they are to me. as hard as it was in those early months of having a toddler and a newborn i am so glad we did it. we gave them each other and a lifetime of shared memories. it’s a gift they may never fully appreciate, as i do. it is such an honor to guide them through the laughter and tears, the shrieks of joy and of outrage as we travel down this path together. thanks for the reminder.

  12. September 14, 2011 2:47 pm

    I’m loving ALL these responses. You guys are so smart and funny and I want you all to be my co-writers of this blog.


  13. September 14, 2011 3:00 pm

    After 5+ months of asking Cedar to stay out of Teo’s face, Teo has started defending himself by grabbing Cedar’s hair in his baby ape opposable thumb grip and Cedar yells “Mom! Teo’s pulling my hair again!” Teo generally squeals delightedly.
    Ahhh, it begins…
    Soon Cedar and Col will be trying to convince Teo to eat chicken coup soup – maybe Rose will come to his rescue :)

  14. September 14, 2011 3:26 pm

    Sometimes, like today, when I read your blog I fell it hit me right where it all matters. I’ve been trying to verbalize what’s going on with my middle lady while my youngest lady is reaching milestones amid a cheering squad and you’ve nailed it: “Contenders for parental love.” She’s a contender, and sometimes around the dinner table, even if we’ve gotten back from a sunset beach walk where we all held hands and giggled in love and understanding, it feels like an arranged marriage.
    So well said, mama-friend-writer.

  15. Chi-An permalink
    September 14, 2011 4:36 pm

    Ohhh, this is so much like my pair, except I think mine are phase-shifted towards the prickly end and have a shorter period and perhaps greater amplitude (sorry, geek speak). One minute they are at it like the Israelis and Palestinians, next minute they are hugging and talking about how they’re going to marry each other, and the third minute it’s like the Yankees and the Red Sox.

    Now that they are older (almost 8 and almost 5) I try to stay out of their fights more. But it’s hard for me to do, mostly because it’s hard for me to watch the little sister being constantly criticized and teased. Because I was the little sister and suffered years of torment and humiliation, and it took decades to get to an uneasy cordiality. I do talk with my son a lot about how he wants his sister to remember him.

    It pains me sometimes to watch, how much she desires his love and approval and thus will undergo a lot of abuse and keep coming back for more. But, maybe it just doesn’t affect her as much as it does me- I have my own experience as a lens.

    p.s. public spelling service- I think you mean “drag them to the altar” rather than alter.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      September 14, 2011 9:54 pm

      Sometimes I’d like to drag them to the *alter* – or the altering factory where you could alter your child’s personality just slightly. Col would start enjoying getting dressed in the morning and Rose would start enjoying keeping one set of clothes on all day.

      Chi-An, seriously. You are awesome. I happen to think impeccable spelling is a virtue, and am always open to alterations. XO

  16. September 14, 2011 5:03 pm

    Oh Rachel. How can one post make me laugh and then cry?? You have described my twins to a tee. I marvel that they have the exact same frigging DNA but they are so different.

    “Did I know I had a brother?” That made me cry.

  17. September 14, 2011 7:01 pm

    Wow Awesome – It makes me cry to realize the truth in this for myself and my two sisters who are the ones that can make me the most want to strangle to death and yet will kill for them and give up my soul for. Then I cry to know that I did not provide this for my daughter who is an only child – though she is the light of my life and hopefully know how much she is the stars, sun and moon to me. Thank you.

  18. melomel permalink
    September 14, 2011 10:09 pm

    Damn, your writing is good! I have been brought to tears or giggled out loud reading almost all of your postings. I am thinking of my kiddle-umps now and how it is so amazing when they get along – squealing babe, wild toddler, and awesome/broody/cool tween. And how heartbreakingly mean they can be. Just like I was with my two sibs. Your blog rocks and I delight in it!

  19. September 15, 2011 2:21 pm

    Somewhat oddly, my older one’s new favorite song current Is Elton John’s “the Greatest Discovery” – about a little boy meeting his baby brother. They are similar to yours in prickly/lovey behaviours they can go at it nonstop, both in terms of play and in terms of fighting, and trying to learn to let it go. But they love to hear about how the little one was born and how the big one met him the next morning. family lore: I’m realizing how important it is to grow up with tales of your family. Recently, they were both in the car with Elton John playing, and the little asked, “remember how you discovered me?” Yup.

  20. September 15, 2011 7:53 pm

    With all my doubts about having a second child, Col and Rose have been an argument in favor of yes. Though my goodness what a whirlwind.

  21. September 16, 2011 9:13 am

    Contenders! yes. The other day Margot was flailing and I asked her, for the 17th time, what she needed. And she said, “I just need some attention!” Fair enough.

    I really love that last bit, the conversation with Rose. Perfect.

  22. September 28, 2011 12:34 am

    “But even more than that, I’d wish for the waves of their quarrels to wash calmly over me, as I stand stirring something at the stove. Because usually while I’m still wringing my mind over sibling meanness, they’re off playing a new game.”

    Amen to that. :)

    And, oh you have a way with the stories of life. Thank you.


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