We call them “Frenemies” or “The Bickersons”. Like an old married couple, my 7-year-old Caroline and her 5-year-old brother Josh love each other intensely. But boy do they know exactly how to push each other’s buttons.
When Caroline came first, I was slightly relieved. Aha, a girl. I am one of four sisters. I know the sisterly bonds of singing show tunes, making fun of haircuts, and taking in a Lifetime movie together on a snowy afternoon. When Josh arrived two years later, I was overjoyed – but instantly terrified. What did I know about boys? Only that you had to change their diapers quickly, or you would be the victim of wee wee target practice.
My biggest concern, though, would my children have the same close relationship as siblings who are all the same gender? I have that sisterly bond – is it different between a brother and sister? Can they ever be close?
They got along pretty well. Probably because there wasn’t anyone else around to play with. But the baby learned from the big sister, who was the show and teller, entertainer and leader. Josh was content to sit there, drool, unmotivated to crawl, while big sister Caroline gave him every toy he desired. As they grew up, Josh asserted himself, no longer content to let Caroline decide everything for him. There were a few biting incidents. “You CANNOT bite your sister. EVER.” (Followed by me wailing “Where did I go wrong..”) As they got older, the biting stopped, and they started actually playing together. Some games of CandyLand (I call it “CheaterLand”) still ended with fighting, but most of the time they enjoyed being with each other. Josh runs to his window to watch Caroline walk through the backyard to school and constantly (!) asks when she’ll be home. I’ll find the two of them in Caroline’s room, while she’s reading Thomas the Train stories out loud. They’ll walk through the parking lot holding hands. He’ll pinch her if she doesn’t listen. She’ll ignore him if he cries to get his way.
Through countless dinners, I would remind the two that they are brother and sister, they would always be together. They would always be family. Usually at that point Josh would ask if that meant he had to give Caroline some of his dessert. So, not sure the point totally sunk in.
Both Caroline and Josh were playing a game at our swim club with a bunch of other children at a variety of ages. During the course of the game, someone told another kid to “shut up”.
Josh said “that’s a bad word!” (Which it is, in my house)
The shut up offender then taunted Josh, saying, “Are you gonna tell on me?”
So big sister stepped in and said “Hey! He’s only 5! Don’t talk to him like that!”
Somewhere the choir of angels started singing, and…. the kid proceeded to taunt Caroline. (You didn’t think this was going to end like an after school special, did you?) No, the kid didn’t see the error of his ways and stop telling kids to shut up. But Caroline ignored him, kept playing, and it was eventually time to go home.
They walked away from the game, Caroline with her arm around Josh’s shoulder. They both told me what happened. Mind you, this wasn’t some huge dilemma. Nothing terrible happened. And it’s not a crime to say “shut up”. But for the first time, I saw lessons I’ve tried to teach in action. First off, it’s important to speak to people the way you’d like to be spoken to. And secondly, stick up for your sibling. It was one of those moments of “Yes! They get it!” I looked at the two and felt they had reached a new bond.
Until they started fighting over who would get in the car first.
I knew I had to marry him, I just didn’t want to.
Everything about him screamed practical, boring and totally uncool. But I had just given birth to my third child two weeks earlier, and I was desperate.
I looked at my current partner. He was sleek and showy, with the right amount of casual ruggedness. When we were together, we created this fabulous picture of a hip family on the go. But he betrayed me. Like that too slick guy that just doesn’t live up to his boastful promises of wanting to be a family man, he couldn’t handle three kids.
Or really, our three car seats couldn’t fit across the back seat.
Yes, my SUV had to go.
The only practical solution my husband and I reached: I had to get a Mini-Van.
(You may wonder why we never tried to put three seats across the back until AFTER the third child was born. I ask myself that question all the time. Or really, I ask my husband that question, since he’s the one who kept saying “Of course they’ll fit!”)
The next week was a blur. I was trying to wrangle a newborn, three-year-old and five-year-old while searching car ads for mini vans. And we had to unload the SUV at the same time. Thanks to some bartering, dealer fast talk and sheer desperation, we traded our swanky SUV in for a barely used mini van. A week later, my new man rolled up the driveway. He was metallic blue with running boards(!) and a rear spoiler (!!). No sunroof. Nothing I would have picked. But it was done, the papers were signed. We were a new couple. Like an arranged marriage, we sized each other up, and realized we had to make it work. For the sake of the kids.
When friends without vans (FWV) heard the news, they were horrified. They murmured things like, “It’ll be ok.” “You won’t have it forever” and “You don’t have to drive it ALL the time.” I had always told myself, I was never going to be a “Mini-Van Mom” or MVM. Whatever that means. Where does that stigma come from? One woman said to me, “People will think you’ve surrendered!” Surrendered to what? The fact I have kids? Um, cat’s out of the bag. I have three. Surrendered my youth or cool factor? I still like a pair of good high heels and a strong gimlet.
Except I don’t have to sweat and struggle to fold seats forward and back to put 3 small children in car seats.
I can press a button and my side door automatically opens. Justlikethat.
When I go to the PotteryBarn Outlet, I can fit a new dresser, three kitchen stools and a floor mirror. In my van.
At tailgate parties, the van holds large coolers of adult beverages, salsa/chips and cocktail shrimp with plenty of room for a nap in the backseat.
I don’t need a clam-top riding on the roof to carry extra belongings for the summer vacation, they all fit inside.
See? He may have been awkward and not the most attractive guy in the beginning. But he’s made my life easier . And that’s why I’m not ashamed to say, I fell madly in love with my mini van. So I drive my crew with pride, rear spoiler and all. And even got a few admiring glances the other day from a carload of teens that pulled up next to me. It was either the van, or the classic Beastie Boys I was blaring on the stereo.
I’m a pretty good speller.
Not like spelling bee obscure word spelling goddess. I mean rapid fire conversation with multiple spelled words.
Like “Should we go to the D- a- i – r – y T- w – i – s – t for i- c – e c – r – e – a – m?”
“I think she’s getting a s- h – o – t at the d- o – c – t – o – r today”
“Buddy, you d- r – i – v – e like an i- d – i – o – t!”
My husband Jamie and I have learned how to spell everything out because of three children who are nosey, have good hearing and are constantly looking for dessert.
For 6 years, we’ve been able to have random conversations that our kids don’t understand. I’m a stickler for clean language around the kids. My language can get a little salty with close friends and my husband. A choice word here or there to make a point. Or a few points. But we vowed to spell stuff out to avoid enhancing a three-year old’s vocabulary with four letter words.
We’ve even had a few testy exchanges… okay, fights where we’ve spelled out some flat-out nasty words in the heat of battle.
At times I’ve spelled so many things in a sentence, Jamie has had to stop and say, “Ok, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And I admit I’ve spelled out words I didn’t need to, out of habit. Like “Hon, we need some more m- i – l – k.” But it has happened. Our oldest, the biggest eavesdropper of them all, can spell. And she’s a really good speller.
“So, when should we talk about the p- a – r – t – y?”
“What party?” Caroline pipes up from the other room.
D- R – A – T.
You see, once we had kids, we knew life would change. We didn’t get to enjoy one bite of dinner until the baby was in bed. So we moved dinner until after 8pm. As more kids came along, we realized we’d have to scratch tv watching until everyone went to bed. (The Bachelor is not rated G) Then, as kids got older, we realized we had to wait to have important conversations, like about jobs or in-laws (“Are you talking about Uncle Fred?”), until everyone went to bed. With the spelling developments, it now seems we must save ALL parental communication until 8pm. So I’ve made my husband a list of things we can talk about while the kids are awake.
That’s pretty much it. He wanted to add sports, but then realized a few choice words he lets fly when his favorite teams are losing, and that pretty much ended that topic.
So while we’re thrilled Caroline is the best speller in the first grade, we can only look forward to our next two children automatically figuring out everything we’re talking about. And I’m sure Jamie and I will have meaningful, carefree conversations in about 15 years.
# – !- & – % – @.