Relationships have to evolve to stay alive. When I look back on our courtship it was the OA pursuing and me playing the Princess. Today I fuss over him, settling his collar, planning a meal he enjoys and he soaks it up, as though it is his right. And it is, isn’t it? Anyhow, this post is not about us, it’s about the babies.
Their bond is changing from ideal, fairytale-like, into a real flesh and blood one. The Brat for all his peace-loving ways, is, like any brother, very aware of which buttons to press to irritate his sister. I could be sitting there seeing nothing and the Bean will turn purple and scream, ‘He’s irritating me. There. Right there. That thing he’s doing, blinking his eyes/twirling that piece of paper/breathing – there, he knows it irritates me and he’s doing it.’ And I’ll look back and forth, goldfish-like and wonder what just happened.
At times he won’t ‘allow’ her to use a word by simply saying, ‘You can’t say ‘red’, it’s my word.’ And the Bean will explode, screaming, crying, yelling. And I’ll take a deep breath and try and deal with it diplomatically.
At other times though, it won’t end that well and the Bean will hit him. Or kick him. If I’ve told her once, I’ve told her a hundred times that she’s not to be so free with her hands and legs, but she’s not one to take kindly to instruction. And when that happens the Brat looks at her with eyes full of sadness and a pain that rips through my heart. And he walks away. All while I’m screaming at her for hitting, asking him why he had to irritate her and generally wondering if it might not be less painful to put my head through a cement mixer.
I’ve raised him telling him to use his words instead of his hands and I can’t tell you how often I wonder if I did the right thing. I’ve also taught him that a gentleman never raises his hand on a woman. And he’s maintained that, never hitting his sister back in retaliation.
In the recent past though, they’ve begun to draw their lines, demarcate their space and struggle over turf. It’s been maddening, enlightening and crazy. And healthy for them too, I guess as they learn where one of them ends and the other begins.
Today I was on the phone and the Bean came sobbing to me, heartbroken. ‘Brat doesn’t love me anymore, he hates me, he doesn’t want to be my brother…’ Typical girl. No mention of the incident that triggered it, go straight for the emotional angle. I cuddled her, kissed her hair, assured her that her brother loved her and carried her to him.
And asked him why she was crying. He shrugged and held out his arm. Teeth marks. She’d bitten him and in sheer terror run to me, knowing that she’d really crossed a line.
I dropped her, washed his hand, put an antiseptic cream and cuddled him. All the while horrified, wondering how to deal with this. What do you do when one child of yours hurts the other so badly? Do you take sides? Do you do what you’d have done if neither was your child and you had to play judge?
I then took a call and asked her if she was a puppy dog, because humans don’t bite. There was not much else to be done because she was already shaking with regret and fear at what she’d done and finally she took herself off to the nursery to calm herself down.
Rocking the Brat I talked to him, asked him if his arm felt better and how he felt. And why he hadn’t reacted. At this point he looked up at me nervously and confessed,’ I hit her when she bit me because it hurt so badly.’
At this point readers, I wanted to fall to my knees and praise the Lord. I wish I could say I was torn, but I wasn’t. I nodded. Hitting his sister was not on, I pointed out, but letting himself be bullied was even more harmful. Next time, I pointed out, maybe you can just hold her away. ‘I held her hands, he said, which is why she bent down and bit my wrist so hard.’
I let it go.
Family politics and equations are created so early. The Bean is a very intelligent child who has for a long time, got away with hitting or kicking her brother because he won’t fight back. No doubt she is scolded and checked and punished by us, but she has him pegged for a pushover and she makes the most of it.
The Brat has a long fuse though and it’s taken him his time. And so the first time he hit back she broke down and sobbed like her heart was broken. I let her sob and suffer for a while. I won’t be around to protect him for life and I certainly don’t want the Bean to grow up believing that the mild are weak.
Dinner, baths, bedtime happened and the Bean was subdued after her father too got back from work and gave her a good talking to. An hour after lights out I stopped in to check on them and found her lying awake in bed. I climbed in next to her and we chatted for a while. She had thought about it for a long time and knew she was wrong. ‘Next time I’ll think of another way to tell him I’m angry. I don’t want to not have a brother,’ she said.
It’s not the end of the matter. I have a feeling it’s just the beginning. And next time it may not be so easily dealt with.