“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
The most volatile relationship in our household is the one that exists between #2 and #3. Only two years apart, these sisters are inseparable at home even when they are waging war against each other. I, myself, do not have a sister, nor do I have a sibling who is close in age so managing this dynamic is quite the learning experience for me, but even more entertaining to witness.
Much to my surprise, #2 exhibited zero signs of jealously when #3 entered the picture. No regression back to diapers, no desire to breastfeed again, and no fighting over mama’s love and attention. However, the above picture is deceptive. #2 was not overly affectionate and was completely indifferent to the new addition to our family. (Occasionally, she would be found riding on top of her new sis as if the baby were a horse which I took as a positive gesture since at least she was now acknowledging #3’s existence. In actuality, #3 didn’t mind it so much. Little did I know that this scene would fore-shadow the nature of their future relationship.)
It wasn’t until our family trip to Disney when the almost 2 year old and the almost 4 year old ultimately found camaraderie and an instant bond. #1 was old enough, and more importantly tall enough, to enjoy the thrill rides with her aunts and uncles which left #2 and #3 as ride-mates in the magic kingdom (and #4 was in utero). They held hands as they sported their matching mouse ears, skipping from attraction to attraction. They shared a Disney extra large double stroller where they could both be found lying down looking up at the clouds as they settled in for their afternoon nap. Initiated by #2, they even started coordinating their outfits each morning. I watched them play together patiently as we waited and waited and waited (in hundred degree weather) to meet the princesses. They became inseparable. This was the start of a beautiful friendship.
My mind immediately formed idyllic images of these new best friends playing nicely together, sharing their belongings (and eventually their clothes), and supporting each other through thick and thin. As I share this fantasy with Ever-Patient, he looks at me incredulously, sheds his optimism for a brief moment, and proceeds to explain how the sibling relationship works in reality and what to prepare myself for, with him having a younger brother himself. He recounts childhood memories full of sadistic instances and physical conflicts that would pale in comparison to any wrestling match. Say “goodbye” to camaraderie, he says, and say “hello” to competition. My bubble is burst but I try to convince myself and Ever-Patient that the girls are different. They hold hands and share a bed. They adore one another. Ever-Patient looks at me as if to say, “You have much to learn young Grasshopper.”
Fast forward almost 2 years. 2 years of developing personalities, adjusting to a fourth sister, and being home with mama.
Having just injured my ankle, and mellowed out on pain medication, I regrettably turned on the TV for a day or two. #2 and #3 had never really watched an episode of Sesame Street so they are mesmerized by a particular segment with Bert and Ernie. Bert and Ernie travel to Mars where Ernie is eager to meet Martians and immediately dances with them. Bert is hesitant and watches from afar, always cautious with respect to his surroundings. Ernie tries to loosen up Bert and get him involved in the dance. After much humourous persuasion, Bert finally participates in the alien two-step. After the segment is over, #3 turns to me and says, “I really like Ernie.” And #2 shakes her head and says, “I like Bert.”
#2 and #3 are now individuals with very different characteristics and personal attributes which lead to both the most tender exchanges and the most frequent arguments. The two sisters share the double bed on the bottom portion of the bunk bed. #2 cherishes her personal space and having alone time. #3 relishes physical affection and an audience. One night, shortly after tucking the two into bed, I hear #3 sobbing. I ignore the initial outcry, thinking this is a theatrical ploy in protest of the early bedtime, but the sobbing turns into what I can only describe as a form of hysteria. I rush upstairs, assuming she is in some physical pain. #2 is curled into a ball against the wall, covering her ears and head with a pillow, and #3 jumps into my arms as if it had been an eternity since being reunited with her mother.
Me (in a rapid fire): What happened? Are you hurt? What’s wrong?
#3: She won’t hug me.
#3 (sobbing starts to get heavy again): She won’t hug me. She won’t even let me hug her or even let my foot touch her foot.
#2 (tossing the pillow in frustration): I can’t sleep if anyone is touching me! I just want to sleep!
#3: But I can’t sleep unless she hugs me!!
(I am completely taken off guard and ill-prepared to solve this dilemma. How do I solve this without causing one of them to sacrifice who they are? Do I force #2 to embrace her little sis and risk #2 resenting her for having me coerce this artificial affection? Do I tell #3 to sleep without the physical contact, implying that her desire to embrace her sis is wrong?)
In the end, I am exhausted and sleep in between them, hugging #3 tightly, while being careful not to have any body part touch #2. The next night #3 was content hugging Joaquin, her large stuffed dog. But as #2 casually asked when she could move to the top bunk, #3’s lip began to quiver. I braced myself for another meltdown only to be pleasantly surprised by #2’s acute sensibility of the situation. #2 looks at #3 reassuringly and says, “Actually, I like it down here. It’s too hot at the top anyway.”
Now my days at home are filled with the two partners in crime playing pretend for hours. #3 encourages #2 during charades since #2 struggles with performing. #2 helps #3 keep focus as she helps her learn to write her name. Upon careful observation, #3 is always a few steps behind #2, an unconscious demonstration of follow-the-leader with an intermittent push on the back by #3 on #2 resulting in an argument: accusation – denial – appeal to mom – mom gives lecture on taking care of each other. Before the lecture is even over, their arms are linked as they doh-see-doh to “Farmer in the Dell.”
I always have to break up the party and take #2 to school for the afternoon. I hear a collective “AWWWWWWW!” as both are disappointed and dejected at the thought of parting. Everyday, as #2 heads to her kindergarten line, #3 buries her head in my side and says sorrowfully, “I miss her.” And everyday, I tell her it’s only a few hours until they’ll see each other again and offer #4 as an alternate playmate. #3 scoffs at this absurd notion as she observes #4 turning in a circle until she is too dizzy to stand over and over again. #3 reads to herself and waits by the window. Next year, #2 will be in school full-time and #3 (and I) will undoubtedly lament over her absence and go through some serious withdrawal. Until that day comes, I will savour the ‘best of times’ and the ‘worst of times’ between these two frenemies best friends.
I am optimistic that one day soon #3 will acknowledge #4 as a companion and #3 will assume the role of leader and big sister. (Although I hope that this does not entail any type of riding on top of #4.)