Last week at our house, we had the double-whammy of my first child’s twelfth birthday, combined with a(nother) stomach bug. The bug wasn’t so bad that it knocked us all off of our feet for days and days on end, but it was enough to make us feel greebly, headache-y, and affect our moods in a negative way. Although we tried to celebrate the birthday with as much joy as we could possibly muster, there was one family member who was somewhat less than enthusiastic: the seven-year-old younger sister.
Seven is a difficult age when you’re a little girl. It is right around that time of life when you’re realizing that you are not the centre of the universe, and that you will not always be able to wangle your own way, just because you’re little and extremely cute. Seven is the time when people start to expect a little more from you… some expectations of a certain amount of maturity and responsibility begin… And, it is at about this time that it becomes all the more important for a little person to be able to think of others before herself. Like, an older sister, for example. Specifically, an older sister who is TRYING to enjoy her special day.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Child Number Two is, as a rule, a wonderful, optimistic, empathetic and generous little soul. She goes out of her way to help others, and likes to see people happy. But, these sorts of characteristics don’t always “shine through” easily when one is feeling kind of crummy. It was clearly difficult for Number Two to watch her older sister be showered with attention, and open her gifts. She started needling her sister a bit… tried to get a little of the “spotlight” for herself. It was clearly an attention-grab, and we gently tried to remind her that she herself had been the “star” of just such a celebration, only a few short months ago.
Eventually, the annoyance became a bit much for The Birthday Girl, and some sisterly tempers flared…
It was not a very good scene. And it was not an easy one to diffuse, since the girlies were in a weakened state, and not very responsive to attempts of parental guidance.
The next morning, Child Number Two was again home from school, but was feeling well enough to accompany me out on some errands. We dropped her sisters off at their respective learning establishments, and then I steered the loser cruiser towards the nearest Mecca of Canadian Coffee: Tim Horton’s. I figured we both needed a bit of a treat… and a bit of a heart-to-heart.
After we had purchased our indulgences, and were settled down at a table, I took the opportunity to bring up the topic of the shenanigans of the previous day. I explained how her older sister was entering into that highly volatile, confusing, emotional maze called “puberty”, and how it would be very important over the next few years to try and be a little bit sympathetic to her wildly fluctuating emotions. But, paramount to that, I reminded my second child how incredibly important it is to value other people’s needs and feelings… especially the needs and feelings of our own family. I tried my very best to explain to her that being “family” is a life-long commitment, and takes a tremendous amount of effort: probably even more effort than any other type of relationship. After all, you can’t choose your siblings-- and siblings often turn out to be complete, polar opposites: people you might never think to strike up a friendship with, were you not “forced to”.
I would love nothing more in the world than for my girlies to grow up as close friends. However, that is something that only they can decide. I can encourage and guide them, but any attempt to force a "close" relationship would undoubtedly backfire… What I CAN instill in them is a sense of respect for one another. No matter what their similarities or differences may be, I try very, VERY hard on a daily basis to teach my girls to treat each other in a respectful way. Hopefully, the closeness and friendship will further develop from there.
By the end of our chat, Child Number Two was her old self again. We both pledged to try a little harder in the future, and moved on to different topics of conversation.
While Number Two and I had been talking, an older woman, her adult daughter, and a little baby boy came and settled down at the table next to us. The daughter set off to the counter to purchase their snack, leaving the older woman to mind the baby. Although she busily showered the little boy with attention, I was aware that the older woman could hear what I was saying to Child Number Two, even though she was clearly attempting to avoid eavesdropping.
Once we had finished, I allowed Child Number Two to take our tray across the shop to the garbage and recycling bins, and it was then that the older woman met my eye.
“I couldn’t help overhearing…” she began, apologetically. “I know where you’re at. I know how hard it is to try and deal with sibling rivalry…”
Then, she smiled warmly at me.
“When things seem really bad, just remember that someday, you’ll be the GRANDMOTHER, like me. And you’ll look back, and realize that overall, these were some of the happiest years of your whole life.”
We shared a “moment”, just then: two women, separated by years and years of experience, but both of us MOTHERS.
And when my little girl hoppity-skipped back to our table and asked me why my eyes looked funny and kind of “wet”…
I told her that it wasn’t anything that one of her good, loooong hugs couldn’t fix.