Monday, October 29, 2012

Dubious Gifts

Many hands make light work, or so the saying goes. The maxim was demonstrated recently as I was in my weed-consumed patch of dirt, trying to un-root all of the garden hoboes cohabitating with my actual plants. Four neighborhood kids happened to be over at the time and, as soon as my hands were in the dirt, I had an inquiry as to what I was doing. One of the neighborhood kids was eager to help, which I allowed and, once her hands were in the dirt, more help quickly arrived.  And soon, Tom Sawyer had passed off the brush and the entire fence got whitewashed while he sat back and watched!  Seven kids with free rein in the dirt quickly results in weeds purged, dirt wallowed in and a disgusting collection of grubs, slugs and roly-polys.  All in a day’s work.

I’ve given my children, for better or worse, the gift of siblings. I grew up as an “only” child (a very late-in-life addition to a family with several nearly-grown siblings)…and I was a lonely child. Mike’s situation was similar in that he was the youngest of three, making him odd-man-out. While my kids will (hopefully) never be lonely, it is quite possible they will never get any personal space. I’m not sure which is worse. For many years to come, our house will be a zoo, full of the kids who live here, plus their friends. Everything will be divvied and parceled… one house with six people and two cats equals very few square feet per beating heart. Personal space will be at a minimum as occupancy limits are compromised, and noise and chaos rule. And, most days, I think this is a good thing.

While Mike and I didn’t explicitly plan such a large family, that is what we have, at least by today’s standards. And while, on some days, the bickering seems to be in limitless supply, the hope is always there that we’ve given our children true friends in each other – of the blood variety, which is hopefully the most enduring type of friendship. Grace and Nadia are less than two years apart, as are Liam and Declan, and there are moments when Mike and I think that we couldn’t have planned it better, if we had any control over any of it.

So, when the bickering is at bay, there are occasional, yet wonderful, moments when I see how strong the bonds can be. One night, Nadia kept coming downstairs because she was “sick” (she is also a semi-pro bedtime-procrastinator, so complaints of illness do not always get my immediate attention). I kept sending her back upstairs to bed. I followed her, unnoticed, to see what she was doing, trying to assess the veracity of the sickly claims. I overheard Nadia crying to Grace about not feeling well and how I wouldn’t believe her. Grace got completely indignant and told Nadia in a heated voice that she was going downstairs to get me and described her plan for convincing me that Nadia was sick. It was intense language for Grace, which spoke volumes.  Grace’s defense of her sister was heartwarming and reminded me that, despite Grace’s frequent resentment of Nadia for banishing her from the kingdom during various princess playtimes, she worries about Nadia and will defend her when she has been wronged.

Nadia and Liam are very alike in their personalities. They are both of the slap-now, ask-questions-later mentality. They can go at it like nobody’s business. Yet there was a day at gymnastics class once when some boy was complaining about Liam. Nadia literally jumped between Liam and the boy (who was bigger than Nadia) and snapped at the boy, “You leave my brother alone! He’s just a cutie pie!” Now, I’ve heard Nadia call Liam a lot of things and “cutie pie” isn’t high on the list. Yet she came to his defense in a flash, even against a larger foe. The love is there, even when it’s not obvious, like when they are engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

My childhood best friend, who grew up with two brothers, has only one child. I’ve suggested, over the years, that she seriously consider having more kids, for the most selfless of reasons…to give her daughter someone (other than a future therapist) with whom to share her childhood memories - both the good and the crummy. I’ve joked with my friend that you have to have to have more than one kid, otherwise the only child will never have someone who can relate to and truly understand the pressures of growing up in their respective loony bin. Parents (I throw no stones…I include myself here at the top of the list) influence their kids – hopefully for the better, and sometimes most certainly for the worse – and no one can appreciate it like someone else who grew up in the same house. Another maxim proved: Misery loves company. I firmly believe that many strong sibling relationships are built on shared, parent-inflicted misery, humiliation, and general nuttiness.

So, I’ve given my kids all kinds of dubious “gifts” in giving them so many siblings. As a result of waiting their turn, shouting to be heard, making do with a small piece of the pie, and all the various sacrifices that come from growing up in a big family, they will hopefully learn the arts of compromise, patience, and adaptability. You’re welcome, kids! Both for giving you each other to share your childhoods with, and for providing lots of maternal nuttiness from which to cultivate your relationships and to build your strong bonds.