I've written a lot lately about how my kids just can't get along. They have moments when they do just fine--surprising us, as they did during the 12 hour plus road trip to upstate New York and Canada last week (and back again). It helped that they were physically removed from each other, but it also helped that L. spent many hours schooling T. in all things Ben 10, a new interest of his. He drew countless Ben 10 coloring pages for her to fill in and spent about 40 minutes straight running through detailed lists of all of Ben 10's alter alien egos, and then quizzing T. on it all. When things are on his terms, they get along just fine; turn the tables, and all hell breaks loose.
We went through a bad spell like this when T. was born. Then, of course, she couldn't speak or walk around, or dominate conversations. But she sure took up a lot of our time. It was painfully and horribly difficult for him to make the transition from life as an only child, with parents who could arrange their time to suit his very particular needs, to life as a sibling, who needed to share his time and space with another being--and one who was helpless and very dependent for a long time. And we didn't even have a diagnosis for L. then, just a dark and uneasy sense that something was wrong; that things should be this difficult, surely not. But after that first year things smoothed out for a bit. They weren't perfect, but the age difference and the dramatic difference in where they were in their lives (one in elementary school and one in preschool) kept things more or less peaceful. Gradually though, ever since T. started kindergarten in September, things have gone downhill. I'm not sure I realized why until our trip last week; then we logged hours in the van with them, and hours in close quarters in hotel rooms, and lots of time at restaurants, and just a lot of time, and something clicked, like that proverbial light bulb going off in a dark or foggy room.
It's hard sometimes, as a parent, to get the perspective you need, when you're knee-deep in it all. When you deal with things day in and day out you can't always step back emotionally or physically and see what's going on. Then you get that ah-ha moment, and feel foolish and inadequate, for not realizing it sooner. Family dynamics are fluid and ever-changing, no matter how static and predictable we tend to think they are. I imagine my kids growing and getting older and the space around them shifting, like giant bubbles expanding and changing form to contain what's within. Then there is my L., who will always struggle with the changes around him, and with his need to hold onto and control the world so it fits into his sense of the way things should be, not the way they have to be; certainly not the way others want them to be. Now I realize--of course!--that the root of most of all this sibling upheaval that's been going on for almost a year now is due to T.'s progress in school. She's learning to read, and write, and do basic math. She comes home every day bursting with news about some new thing she heard about, or learned in class. She is developing a strong opinion and sense about what she does and doesn't like and is even earning a small allowance and doing chores.
She is exploding out of the realm of L.'s control, if ever she was there.
She's growing up.
He's growing up, too.