Once upon a time, before I had any children, I always thought I would have a houseful. Three or four, probably four. Like I said, that was when I had none.
Then, I had one. He was lovely, even lovelier once he got over the colic and the screaming and the lack of napping. Shock hit and it was a full year before I could even consider having another, and two years and eleven days later his brother arrived.
I was a mother of two. They seemed to really like each other, from the outset the bigger one was protective of the smaller. I cooed and ahhed looking at the smaller one following his big brother with his gaze. It was fabulous, siblings were amazing. Then the smaller one started hair pulling, and toy stealing, and sucking jigsaw pieces and my diplomatic skills were necessary. He learned to walk and followed along after his big brother, exhausted as his two-year-old legs tried to keep apace with the four-year-old in front.
Someone somewhere along the line decided that a third child would be a great idea and the small girl joined her two brothers at the beginning of our heatwave summer. They adored her from the very beginning, her smaller brother taking the role of protector and entertainer. It was lovely. They scolded me for not attending to her enough, they sang to her and played with her. They fought over whose turn it was to hold her and hug her. “best sister ever”. Sibling bliss. Exactly what we expected. Smug factor high, all the sleepness nights had paid off.
Then they started to get bigger. The eldest started school and called the others “the babies”. The middle resented the time his sister took from him. They started to bounce off each other, physically and metaphorically. Point scoring, oneupmanship, everything was a competition. Every opportunity was taken to confirm that each of them was the best. DS scores compared, pictures judged, running speed, hurling skills. Instead of instant playmates they found instant adversaries.
As they get bigger, each can walk by themselves and talk for themselves. They tell me a lot these days about their feelings for their siblings.
“He’s the worst brother in the world”.
“I don’t even want a sister anymore”
“I am so bored of these little ones”
“He hit me”
“He pinched me”
“She scribbled on my homework”
“He called me a mean name”
“He said I smell like poo”
“He said I’m horrible”
“He touched me”
“She bumped me. On purpose.”
“He is being so annoying”
“Make him stop. Maaam.”
Not the joyful exchanges I envisaged. It turns out that siblings are not always blissful. They don’t always adore each other every moment of every day. They’re not always inseparable. Instead of the three of them playing together I find myself divided three ways to play three different games with time being watched as to who got the most of me.
Siblings. I have five of my own. I should have known. I ought to have remembered. The bickering and biting, the bruising and bawling. It’s not all piggybacks and hand holding.
Maybe, I think hopefully, that when we get past these physical days where two years and eleven days is a generation apart, that they’ll settle. That they’ll realise that your siblings are your first friends and your last friends, your constant playmates, your confidantes.
Because they are. They know you most of all. They have your common history, they know the family ways. They accept you for who you are. They don’t have to be the best of friends all of the time, but when the chips are down, they’re there in your corner.
So when I remind my sons that they should each know that in the school yard that there is one person there who will always, always be on their side and they look quizzically at each other wondering who I’m talking about I shouldn’t be surprised. Nature makes them compete, nurture will remind them that they don’t need to.
And when I’m breaking up another fight, I’ll take another deep breath before launching into my usual speech, and try to remember what it’s like sitting in a crowded backseat surrounded by siblings.
As my seven-year-old would say, sometimes siblings suck, and I’d add, but mostly they’re awesome.
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