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.