Sibling rivalry

The dynamics between my children have endlessly fascinated me. I love observing the interactions between them. I giggle behind my hand while listening to their serious or absurd discussions about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Elf on the Shelf. I try not to interject while they discuss the best way to manipulate their somewhat strict mother into letting them play their DS or forgoing piano practice. And I contemplate plucking out every strand of my black but greying hair when they fight over virtually everything.

This interest in sibling exchanges most likely stems from the intense rivalry I had with my twin brother. We have been staunch buddies since an early age and each other’s nemesis since even earlier. My mother commonly would remind us that we started fighting at 9 months of age. He would say “Jie Jie (big sister in Mandarin, albeit by 3 minutes), bye-bye!” He would turn his head away and I would start wailing and kicking. I would retaliate and say, “Di Di (little brother), bye-bye!” Over the years we would find anything and everything to disagree on. On our way to preschool every morning, we would drive by a Ponderosa restaurant in the process of being constructed. Every single day, we would wage battles over who would be the lucky kid to sit on the passenger side of the back seat so we would have a pristine and unobstructed view. Whilst the sulking kid behind the driver side would frantically crane his/her head, the other would try to block the view of such glorious 1970’s building construction with his or her arms. The rivalry probably worsened in high school and the fights become more complex and meaningful.

Our loyalty to each other also grew as well. In high school during a precalculus class, my classmate became angry because I was selected by the teacher to present a trigonometry problem instead of him. This classmate struck back by saying, “Why don’t you go back to China where you belong!” I never understood the venom behind his words, it really was just a math problem! However, this particular classmate made me cry several times during junior high and high school. When my brother heard this story, he was livid. As the valedictorian of our class, he could basically chose any university to which he applied. He purposely applied to Duke University without serious intention of ever going, just to block this classmate’s dream of attending the school. My brother was accepted, the ignorant classmate was rejected. My brother went to Harvard instead. I don’t think I realized the extent of my brother’s loyalty at that time. I heard the story several years later. When my brother and I parted ways during college, it was then that we started truly appreciating each other.

Because my brother and I did bicker over the most diminutive, paltry issues, I certainly received my comeuppance when I had my four feisty children. There could be indefatigable altercations when the four of them are together. My children’s fights can be over a toy, a desired chair or spot on the couch to repose, a thoughtless exchanged comment, a hurt feeling or body part, copying a picture or idea. Before the rhubarb reaches a boiling point, I have tried counting out sharing times, splitting kids up in separate corners of the house, and simply leaving them alone to figure out their own skirmishes.

Despite the daily havoc in my household and its subsequent effects on my sanity and greying hair, I have rationalized that the fracas is a good thing. My kids will be better prepared for the challenges and dissensions they encounter in school, extracurricular activities and work. I hope they won’t shy away from confrontation, but instead meet it head on. I hope they will try to resolve problems and  work things through, rather than shutting down or retreating or avoiding the  problems at hand. My husband and I are constantly introducing the mantra into our children’s impressionable minds, “Your brothers and sister will always be your best friends. Friends may come and go, but you should always count on your siblings forever.” Siblings live with your stinky morning breath, your laughter after a stellar report card, your tears after someone breaks your heart. I hope my children continue to be each other’s closest confidantes, as my brother is one of mine almost 38 years later.


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