Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Portraits of sisterly competition

When it comes to parenting two children, I really have no idea what I'm doing. Sometimes there is a lot of yelling and bickering and pushing over such life-threatening matters as one sister looking at the other sister when she didn't want to be looked at. Other times these two work collaboratively to develop such new and exciting games as "Car tag" or my personal favourite, "How many times can I get my little sister to say the word Poop." Some days I just sit back and watch the show.

Yesterday I was home with Shira while Matt was at work and Alyce at school. Since I've stopped breastfeeding my days at home with Shira have been easier. Over the last few months so much of my time was spent negotiating with Shira over when, where, and for how long she could nurse. She would turn to me whenever she was faced with a particularly tough challenge or disappointment, or if she was hurt, diving into me for some help feeling back to normal. Breastfeeding gave the both of us resources to deal with our ups and downs, mine included. Now Shira is ready to deal with such challenges on her own, and though she's never very far from me, I've been able to stay in the background a little bit more and watch as she creates a world on her own, and even more fun, a world with her sister.

Beginning around eleven yesterday Shira began to set a Shabbat table using their small table in the playroom. She had been poking around the dining room while I was trying to hang some photos on the wall (only seven months after moving in!) and I was trying to distract her from my hammer with the shiny kiddush cup and candles we use for Shabbat dinner. Seeing how excited she was to play Shabbat, I offered her a small table cloth and the flowers from our dining room table. Four hours later she had crafted one of the most elaborate, beautifully designed, unicorn and pony festooned table that was fit for the finest of Shabbat celebrations. She'd even settled some of her best friends, two very attentive Backyardigans, in for a fine evening of singing and eating. As I reluctantly pulled her away from her project to pick-up Alyce from school, her biggest concern was, as you probably guessed, that Alyce would come home and destroy all her efforts. Or maybe just look at it the wrong way.

That didn't happen. I had prepared Alyce for Shira's table as we walked home together from school. I told her that Shira was feeling very proud of her work and was concerned that other people might touch it. Alyce and I assured Shira that no one would destroy her table or even ask to touch anything. I naturally prepared myself from some big, big arguments once we got home, but instead I sat back and watched as Alyce, inspired by Shira's own creativity, began to create her own table in the living room. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with Competitive Shabbat Table Setting.

My only role in this was to dispense the necessary table clothes, a few special cups, and to spell the names for the place cards Alyce designed. The girls collected pine cones and dead leaves outside to adorn their tables, in addition to the traditional tying on of birthday balloons from a weekend party we attended. Alyce and Shira energetically ran through the house for almost an hour beautifying their tables for Shabbat (which I should mention doesn't arrive until Friday night). 

I did this sort of thing with my friends growing up, but I'm feeling gifted lately as I watch more and more impromptu sibling adventures. It isn't always this collegial, and even this rather calm afternoon celebration including one vigorous push from Shira which caused Alyce to land bottom first into a box of blocks. (Shira is getting very good at apologizing and Alyce is getting better and better at forgiving every day.) But I feel as though they are breaking me in, sometimes gently, other times not so much, toughening up my parenting skin as the mother of siblings. My university roommates, both siblings, used to tease me relentlessly that I was too soft and couldn't take the noise, beatings, and intensity that comes from having been tortured annoyed loved by brothers and sisters. They thought I was soft.

Do you think I'm soft? Maybe don't answer that.

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