I was driving Katie to school yesterday morning when a longsuffering sigh rattled forth from the back seat. I shared the sentiments behind the sigh; it had been a pretty chaotic morning, due in no small part to the kind of sibling bickering that makes one seriously doubt the possibility of peace on earth.
“What’s up, Katie?” I asked. Apparently the question opened a floodgate of pent-up frustrations.
“It’s just that Caleb really gets under my skin!” she lamented. (She just learned the idiom “gets under my skin” this week, so I’m proud to see she’s already incorporating it into her practical language. At least, I think I’m proud.)
“Yes,” I commiserated, “Little brothers can do that sometimes.” (In truth, I was thinking of my own little brother, who once cut the hair off my Barbies and then melted their heads on a cookie sheet just to see what would happen. I’m happy to report that he survived his doll-mutilation phase and went on to become a normal, productive member of society.)
I was just about to go into my critically acclaimed “Loving Your Family Even When They Get on Your Nerves” speech when Katie made it clear that she wasn’t yet done with the airing of grievances.
“He chatters all night while I’m trying to sleep, and in the morning he wants me to come down and turn on the light even though his bed is on the bottom and he’s closer! And he keeps saying that his name begins with a ‘K’ and mine begins with a ‘C’ even though he knows that’s not true! And he tries to climb on my back for piggyback rides when I don’t want him to! And he talks while I’m trying to read to him, and keeps turning the pages before I’m done with them! And he copies me! And he follows me around and won’t give me any personal space! And you know what else he does?…”
When she finally paused to draw breath, I leapt into the gap. “I know Caleb annoys you sometimes, but don’t you think you also do things to annoy him? Big sisters can sometimes be bossy and irritating, too, you know.” (Now I was thinking of myself as an oldest child, and the many times my mother had to step in to remind me not to be so domineering of others. I clearly remember saying to her once, “I’m not bossy, Mommy; it’s just that I have all the good ideas!”)
“Why don’t you try to think of some good things about your little brother?” I went on, “I’m sure there are lots of things you love about him.”
Seconds ticked by.
“I can’t really think of anything right this minute,” she said.
“Well, think about the fun times you have together,” I prompted, concerned that I had clearly neglected to nurture this delicate childhood relationship. “Think about the nice things he does. Can’t you think of anything good?”
“Well…it is fun to teach him stuff,” she finally admitted, “like how to create things with paper and tape, and how to make a tent out of blankets.”
“Good! That’s good, Katie. Can you think of anything else?”
“Umm, he likes to watch me play video games. And he’s always happy to see me when I come home from school,” she added. “And also, he gives me lots of hugs (even though sometimes I don’t want any.)” I ignored the little grumble at the end and gave her an encouraging wink over my shoulder.
We were pulling up to the front door of the school when Katie thought of one more thing.
“You know what else, Mom? Caleb thinks my jokes are really funny!” she said, before slamming the car door with a grin.
I grinned, too, as I pulled away.
At least one of us does.