On Sunday we had a total of 20 minutes of peace between the two kids. Those 20 minutes took place -- aptly enough, I suppose -- during Family Cook Night. L. was too busy chopping carrots and cucumbers (he even sliced a tomato, which was real progress for him! I had to hold the tomato, though, as it was "too squishy" for L.'s finicky tastes) to bicker with T., and T. was too busy setting the table and giving everyone too many napkins to bicker with her brother. But aside from those 20 minutes, Sunday was one long fighting-tooth-and-nail fest between the two kids, complete with hair-pulling, name-calling, and lots of teasing sprinkled in for good measure. Granted, L. started all the squabbles, as is usually the case, but T. has become quite adept at pushing her big brother's buttons -- and he has many of them to push.
I was telling Scott later (after we collapsed on the couch with our respective piles of final exams to grade) that I just can't remember fighting that much with my own brother and sister. At least, I don't remember the constant bickering and competition between us -- the sometimes nonstop fighting over our parents' attention. I think a large part of this had to do with the fact that, while our parents did play with us quite a bit, we were really on our own as far as creating our own entertainment. We had a few toys, and these were in our rooms. If we were bored, or too rambunctious, we were sent outside -- and we gladly went. There, under the big oaks and the sprawling mulberry tree in the backyard, our petty disagreements dissolved into the kind of harmony you have to achieve if you are to have any hopes of getting someone to play with you; otherwise you were on your own, left to sulk among the ivy while your siblings played Hobbits together--and nobody wants to be the one left out. I'm sure we fought, and I'm sure we were jealous of each other, but ultimately we knew we were responsible for our own fun, and never expected our parents to provide us with the entertainment. After days like today I sometimes second-guess how much time we do spend playing with the kids. Is it too much? Is it wrong for them to want our company so much that they fight each other for it? Will it be like this forever (if the reality of a squabbling four-year old and seven-year old is exhausting, what will it be like when they're 12 and 15)?
We don't have too many friends with kids the same ages as our kids. Most of our parent friends have younger children, or older kids. And we have the added painful complication, of course, to the typical sibling rivalry, in L.'s issues in general. Still, I suspect all the sibling rivalry is normal; all the back-and-forth fights for "territory" and attention something all siblings go through. But I have a deep fear after days like this one: worries that in adolescence T. will flee in a different direction from L. (and from us by default); that they will grow up apart and not together, that somehow they won't learn that friends come and go, but siblings are forever, through thick and thin, through the hair pulling and the teasing and the tears.
I hope my fears turn out to be entirely unfounded; that days like yesterday are only small bumps in the road for the two of them. Sometimes, when you're right in the middle of challenging parenting moments, you can't see past them into the future (I learned this the hard way when T. had colic). I hope that despite the odds and difficulties, they'll grow up each other's best friend, all those fights and "I hate yous" belonging to the past, shelved away with the other bittersweet parts of childhood.