When I think back on my childhood, I honestly don’t remember much. I remember playing The Gong Show with my sisters and cousin, singing into the removable canopy holders from my oldest sister’s bed. I remember the beaded necklace that lit up that my mother despised. I remember that the fastest way to get popped would be to get caught eating anything before dinner (especially three bread and butter sandwiches). What is more telling is what I don’t remember: I don’t remember arguing with my sisters. Sure, I was three years younger than each of them, but we’d had to have disagreed on some things, right? Until my mother started bringing out photos after I had my first daughter, I’d assumed my sisters and I weren’t close as children or didn’t get along. The pictures tell a different story: there are pictures of my sisters holding me, smiling at me, sitting in a pool with me. We are together in every picture. Every picture. Yet, I literally do not remember having a conversation with my oldest sister until I was 18. She was 24.
My sisters and I are close now (I suppose we were close as children; I simply can’t remember it). My daughters were close once. Unfortunately, at 11 and 8, the harmony has been lost, replaced with mean girl eye rolls, angry stares, pushes, snatches, screams. I naively hadn’t anticipated this. Disagreements, yes, strife and potential arguments over clothes or the television or who gets to do what when, sure. But this intense dislike? This is foreign and I feel like I’m not doing or saying things that will make their relationship right again.
My older daughter thinks her sister is a brat. My younger daughter thinks her sister is the greatest thing since lip gloss. My older daughter tolerates her sister. My younger daughter is starting to lash out because she feels as though her sister only tolerates her. She’s also the middle child, which I guess I’m supposed to factor into their relationship. Right now, I’m nearly at my end.
Their bickering is like a slap in the face. I know kids don’t always get along, but my kids weren’t supposed to fall into that category. Haven’t I taught them to cherish one another, that a sister is for life, a sister has your back, your sister should be your best friend, your first friend, the one you know will be there for you no matter what? Your sister will fight the neighborhood bully for you, braid your hair when you can’t reach the back section, give you Life Savers when you fall off the Big Wheel and your whole left big toe toenail peels off. Your sister will tell you about cramps and boys and sneak Miller Lites for you. Haven’t I shown them how sisters should behave, how much I adore my sisters, how we can go days without speaking and then the time melts away the minute we reconnect? I am doing something wrong. Before you correct me and say I can’t make them like each other or that all siblings fight, know that I know this. This isn’t a woe is me, parenting is hard deal. This is a how the hell do I rekindle that love, that fierce protection, that sisterly bond they used to have that somewhere, for whatever reason, has disappeared?
There are times they appear to be unable to be in the same room together. They rarely play together now (sure, there is nearly a three year age difference, but they still have things in common). They argue over whose turn it is on the computer, what to watch on TV, who’s showering first, what to have for dinner, whose pink sock the other is wearing (when they have identical pairs). I truly never imagined there would be a day when they would not get along. That sounds irritatingly optimistic to admit, but it’s true. To me, it’s an automatic, a given that we love our siblings, we are a family, we act accordingly. It’s not even a question. Arguments, disagreements, fights, yes, but ultimately there is a loyalty so unwavering that nothing can pierce it. This wasn’t something my mother told us or tried to teach us or had to remind us of. So why don’t my girls automatically exhibit it?
It hurts when they dismiss one another or opt to do something one knows the other has no interest in, only because they’d rather be separate. While I get the desire to not always do everything together, I just don’t get when that shift occurred, that I’d rather you not be around me, that I don’t like her feeling. Do you have any idea how much it hurts to realize that your once very attached children may not even like each other? We’ve tried games where we go around the table and name something we like about each other. They seem hard pressed to come up with something and that makes me want to cry for them (and possibly beat them upside the head with rolled up magazines because seriously? One thing? You can’t name one thing?).
Do I force them to do more things together? Do I think up strategies to get them to acknowledge the likability/strengths/wonderful qualities in each other? Do I make them write I love my sister 500 times? I must be doing something wrong.
Last week they argued so horribly I could think of nothing else to do or say other than sit together, touching. Feel your sister against you. Did I think some magical force of energy was going to swell between them and everything would go back to “normal”? Please. They acted like the other had a flesh eating disease that could be contracted through skin to skin contact.
I was making dinner and left them on the sofa so long they fell asleep (thighs still touching).
While they didn’t argue the rest of the evening (and that was notable and acknowledged), I can’t duct tape them together as a reminder to stay close and cherish sisterhood. I love my sisters more than Cool Whip. This may not be the way I feel all the time because how can you not remember to bring back my Tupperware ever? But outside of all the times that I may be irked by either or both of them, the love is still there. I look at my girls looking at each other and I see no love sometimes and damn. Just damn.
How can I get them to remember to be gentle to one another, respectful, loving, caring — sisters? There has to be a way to make this right. Now.