I remember when I was a kid, Mum was always talking about how much my brothers and I would fight. She used to tell us that our Uncle, who happened to be staying with us at the time, would hide in the garage until we had left for school just to avoid the noise. My brothers and I would laugh. Now, I’m the one hiding from the noise and it’s a whole lot less funny.
I am desperate to find the ‘thing’ that will make the yelling and the crying, the whinging and the hitting, the pinching and the taunting stop.
‘Why don’t you play music?’ our nanny asked me one day. I didn’t have an answer for her. I know now, silence is bliss (she says officially morphing into her mother).
My eldest has a temper like you wouldn’t believe. She had her first temper tantrum at 8 weeks old. The doctor told me that was impossible, I suggested he try and get her in the car. He smiled. So did I, but our smiles were different.
My youngest has an angelic face and a placid temperament. A real sweetheart, except with her sister. When she was nine months old, her elder sister deliberately knocked her over. She didn’t cry. She hauled herself back up, crawled across the couch and pushed her sister over. I knew then, that she would be able to hold her own. I was quietly proud of her. Her sister was not.
My eldest did not take kindly to the arrival of her sister. Even now, she tells me that she wishes her sister hadn’t been born. She doesn’t want to share me. In fact, she wants to know if I can put her back. I said hell no, it was hard enough getting her out in the first place.
And so, sibling rivalry was born.
My youngest has worked her sister out. She knows exactly how to drive her nuts. She ignores her older sister until her sister collapses in a puddle of tears on the floor. ‘What?’ she says, a picture of innocence when I call her name.
The other day, she sat at the table, an angelic look on her face, a halo of golden ringlets surrounding her face, while her sister ranted and raved and threw things. All adult eyes automatically went to the loudest one. My husband’s voice raised to quell what he thought was another temper tantrum, but I knew our youngest was not as innocent as she was pretending.
I reached out and touched my husband’s arm. He paused mid-sentence to look at me. I nodded at our youngest, who was now happily spooning the potatoes our eldest had wanted onto her plate.
It’s awful, hilarious, but awful.
Sadly, my eldest has a reputation in certain circles of our family as the ‘difficult one’, the ‘problematic one’ and our youngest has the reputation for being the ‘good one.’ I think both titles are equally damaging, but sometimes people want to see things a certain way and there’s not much to be done about it… (except live on the other side of the world. A solid plan, until, of course, I realise, it’s just me and the two of them locked in a house and there are no grandparents that I can ‘drop in’ and visit/hand them off too).
I bought a book recently, ‘healing stories for difficult behaviours’. It’s a really lovely compendium of short stories, covering all sorts of really relevant situations, moving house, changing schools, saying goodbye to loved ones, fear, anxiety, nightmares, sharing, listening, helping.
My eldest has really taken to it, in a way that has surprised and thrilled me. I bought it with her in mind. She is the one who has struggled the most with the move to Amsterdam, and it is her anxiety that is the hardest to consistently meet with kindness. Whenever she is anxious, a wild rage takes her over. When her sister is anxious she becomes sad — a much easier emotion to comfort.
‘She reminds me of me,’ said my Mum, when my eldest was about two-years-old and had already passed through the banging of her head on the floor, and the 40-minute tantrum phases, ‘she needs discipline, really, really strict boundaries.’ I wasn’t convinced. I suspected that what my mum had really needed growing up was truck-loads of unconditional love. But I tried it with the discipline, and neither I nor my eldest were happy. So I tried it with love. Really clear boundaries, and lots and lots and lots of love. Some days are easier than others, but I feel like we have more successes.
Whenever rage takes her over, we sit, sometimes in her bedroom, sometimes in the bakfiets, and other times we walk through the park. We move through the violence and the name-calling until we finally land on what is really going on. It can take 5 minutes or 45 minutes, but every time we get to that still, quiet place, where hearts can meet. But it can be exhausting.
So I bought this book hoping to engage her imagination in the process, that way neither of us has to listen to me get up on my soap-box. And in it, I found a story about a mother, who wraps her head in scarves to protect her ears from the noise of her children arguing. I love the story. The mother runs off into the forest for hours at a time, to swim, and pick flowers, and reconnect with a soothing quietness. I’m not sure who is looking after her kids, but it sounds wonderful. My daughter loves the story too and asks to hear it every night.
If I ignore the fact that my eldest insisted I ride the long way home, knowing her sister was crying, and the fact that she became furious with me when I refused to carry her bike (despite the fact, or because I was already carrying her sister and her sister’s bike), and the tantrum that came when I refused to let her eat the same thing for lunch that she had had for breakfast, and then refused to let her pour tomato sauce all over it then I can watch my girls playing happily together with their dolls and their prams and say ‘it is working!’
Maybe I can just disappear into Amsterdamse Bos like the Mum in the story…