I made the right sacrificial offering to the Parental Karma Gods That Be when my boys were young. Neither boy was a biter, a pusher, a smacker. There was rarely a sandbox altercation to break up and even temper tantrums, the proper ones where you feel the eye of every adult burning into your soul with the heat of hellfire and judgement, those, thankfully, were few and far between. More than once, I have had a stranger or flight attendant compliment me on the cool, calm, and collected behavior my children have exhibited on long distance flights. At every conference, their teachers praise their sense of justice, their equitable and reasonable attitude toward their classmates; the older one has even been referred to as a ‘peacemaker among his peers’.
So why why why why why a thousand times why do they harass the crap out of one another?
If one has to pee, the other one has to pee MORE!!! If one finds a piece of hard to find Lego, the other one MUST HAVE IT! I have had to count ravioli to make sure there is equal distribution, measure water in cups, create and post a schedule for who sat in the orange chair on which day. There is practically an Excel spreadsheet in my head keeping track of who sat next to Dad last night and who took a shower first yesterday and who got to choose the movie last week. They bicker and squabble and grate on each other’s nerves like an old, married couple. Like my grandparents. And Lord knows someone should have given my grandparents the number of a divorce lawyer for their golden anniversary. They poke each other, insult each other, annoy one another and egg each other on. They go out of their way to get the other in trouble. And when one is in hot water, the other sits, angelically smiling and saying in his best Oliver Twist accent, “Please, Mother, may I have another?”. As if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
I have written before about my slight OCD tendency to work an issue to death so that I can wrap the jaws of my mind around it. Only then can I begin to work out the solution. So I know that the core issues of sibling rivalry stem from jealousy, attention seeking, feeling that the love is not doled out equally. Conscious of that, I go out of my way. I have lists, I have schedules, I try to make things as equitable as possible. I involve them in their own consequences. I have yelled, whispered, threatened, rewarded, cajoled, bribed, listed expectations, practically made pie charts and power point presentations of the rules and…. it’s never enough. And so I resort at times to the old, “You know what? Life isn’t fair. Get used to it.” Usually this is when someone is complaining that the other got more rice. Yes, sometimes he gets more rice than you do, I’m sorry. Counting individual grains isn’t in my job description. Obviously I love him more than I love you.
Recently, after another Saturday morning session of pulling out my hair and asking sotto voce ‘why can’t they just leave each other alone???’, my husband came out with one of those statements that makes you stop in your tracks. Maybe, he said, it all stems from a time when you had to fight for survival. The strongest, loudest, most attention-getting sibling got the biggest piece of meat, more food, and therefore a better chance of survival. And I thought, that’s brilliant, it makes sense of it all. What if, encoded in our DNA, is a sibling fight mechanism that rules all else?
Sibling Darwinism. A retro parenting trend.
I would never make light of food shortages and famine, but the truth is, if you are reading this, you have an internet connection. It would logically follow that a shortage of food is not a problem. In fact, the problem I have buttoning my jeans lately would suggest the opposite. But just for fun, let’s imagine if we put this theory into practice. Survival of the fittest sibling. Whoever can outwit, outlast, and outplay the other brother gets more food. Whoever wins the challenge gets the drumstick. Last man standing over musical chairs gets extra bacon. Pass the parcel would take on a whole new meaning. Imagine if hidden within that plain, brown wrapping was not another plastic doohickey, but a nutrient rich meal replacement. The possibilities are endless.
It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase Hunger Games.
May the odds be ever in your favor, children. Let the games begin.