sibling rivalry

becoming brothers

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They’re discovering each other, finally.

Oh, they bumped into each other for well over a year. There were the Months of Glaring At the Loud Newborn followed by the Months of Stealing Everything from The Helpless Baby. The Months of “Did-You-Hit-Your-Brother-No-It-Was-An-Accident” followed by the months of “Mama-Make-Him-Not-Play-With-That-Toy-I-Need-It-Right-Now!”

Months full of angry slaps and indignant wails and gritted teeth and time outs. Months when I rolled my eyes at the Facebook feed of perfect photos of doting siblings gazing adoringly at new babies, months when I muttered “mmm…must be nice…” while fellow mothers rhapsodized about how beautifully their newly-two were getting along.

I’d look at my boys and wonder when – or if – the proverbial love would ever be lost between them.

And then, of course, it started right under my nose when I wasn’t looking.

Suddenly it was the baby’s second winter and we were stuck indoors for January’s cruel string of sub-zero days and I glanced up from my laundry pile in the basement to make sure no one was bleeding and I realized they were playing together. Interacting instead of ignoring, sharing instead of stealing, playing instead of pushing.

They jumped together on the trampoline, one up and the other down, then both bopped in time together, sparkling eyes on two grinning faces as they popped like carnival whack-a-moles. “Mama! We’re bouncing!” called the oldest; “Up! Up!” echoed the youngest as he fell over, chuckling.

Now they’re full of giggles and goofy words and silly games. Sure, they still steal toys and wail indignantly and hit in frustration. But they also laugh their heads off together. And I can’t help but laugh with them.

I love watching them become brothers.

. . .

Back when I was reading all those books about labor and delivery for the first time, I never realized I’d be birthing more than a baby.

I was so focused on my impending motherhood, on how this scrawny, slippery newborn was going to subvert the world as I knew it, that I neglected to realize how many other lives were going to change, too. How when I brought that baby into the world, I would also be birthing a grandchild, a nephew, a cousin – so many relationships born in that same instant.

And when I prepared to birth my second, I was equally clueless about the sea change that a sibling would bring. Sure, I knew it would shift our family dynamic, scramble the focus of attention, stretch the scope of love and patience that each day would demand.

But I never realized how long it would take my two to start growing into brotherhood.

By definition it happened in an instant, but by practice it stumbled slowly. Maybe every tried-and-true relationship is like that, fumbling, faltering through fits and starts, but plodding on, persistently, even painfully.

. . .

Most of us will end up knowing our siblings longer than anyone else. Longer than our parents, longer than our spouses, longer than our own children. “Your oldest friend,” my mother used to remind us as we glared at each other across the dinner table or banged shoulders in a huff on the way out the door to school, likely muttering to ourselves about not getting stuck with that loser as our oldest friend.

And now? Of course I see it’s true. That despite the twists and turns that our lives are taking, often away from each other, whether geographically or emotionally, my siblings remain stubbornly close. We share much of the same history, the same relationships, the same sense of humor. We can’t help but come back to each other every so often, to laugh and remember how surprisingly similar we remain despite our deep differences.

Maybe this is what it means to become brothers: to go through seasons of ignoring or hating or fighting or shunning or shoving, but to come back to the stubborn truth that you’re stuck with each other. They’re not going anywhere and neither are you, and if you’re going to share the same roof or parents or piles of toys, you better learn how to get along.

And sometimes even laugh your head off, too.

the touch of rivalry

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I hit, I hit, I hit!

He wakes up chirping like a bird. A happy song to greet the dawn, warbling as he waits for me to arrive. But the words aren’t quite as sweet as the tune.

No hugs! I do not hug. I hit! I hit my brother!

The rivalry song.

Half of me wants to burst out laughing every time I hear his angelic soprano start on the monitor. Half of me wants to storm in the little devil’s room and declare, for the thousandth time that no, you do NOT hit your brother, it is NOT nice to hit, and you do NOT sing mean songs about hitting, you need to be GENTLE.

(Even though yelling at children to be gentle never fails to amuse in its irony.)

He’s three and the baby is one and they can’t help but collide all day, physically and emotionally. One is curious, the other covetous; one likes to build carefully, the other likes to barrel over and destroy. They are each other’s beloved playmates, but when the toys and books and food and games and attention have to be shared, rivalry rears its ugly head. For now the older is always the instigator, but the tables will soon turn and the hits will trade back and forth.

Push, shove, steal, slap, throw, grab, smack. I hit, I hit, I hit!

Sometimes I try gentle reminders: We don’t hit in our family. Sometimes I opt for alternative techniques: Hands aren’t for hitting; they’re for helping. Sometimes I simply grit my teeth and seethe STOP.

I know it’s a passing phase; I know some siblings spar far worse; but I also know I’m plain tired of it. Tired of him singing about it from the time he wakes up; tired of wrestling toys away from one or the other all afternoon long. Tired of whacks and slaps and shoves and pushes between brothers. Yearning for a gentler touch.

. . .

Election season rolls round, and the churches roil over to uproar again, and I’m so tired of the factions, the fighting, the fear, and the ferocity with which we attack each other. Over and over again we become as bad as sparring siblings: we hit and hit, lashing out; one side’s sinners, the other side’s saints. I wonder if deep down we’re all craving God’s attention, clamoring for love like children, shoving at the siblings around us, slapping each other with name-calling and petty attacks. Where’s the Christ in that?

I hit, I hit, I hit my brother, no, I do not like hugs.

Contrary to Teresa’s wisdom – Christ has no hands but yours in the world – we use hands in many ways that aren’t holy, too. The slaps and shoves I see from my oldest to my youngest aren’t so far from my own fists balled in frustration, my palms slammed to the kitchen counter, my fingers pointed in pettiness. As they learn language I’m constantly coaching use your words, but how do I teach use your hands?

Maybe the more I fold them in prayer, bring them to heart’s center like my yoga teacher reminds, the more I model the gentleness of touch. Fingers that fix, palms that smooth, hands that hold, hug, help.

A heart that rests in God’s belovedness without elbowing the other children of God around me. Hands that don’t need to fight for attention.