I read this article recently about siblings that live near one another in New York City. They talked about the bonding, the shared meals, the looking out for one another, and it got me all nostalgic for the times in my life when my sister and my brother lived in Chicago with me. I even let them both bunk with me for a few weeks (actually many people have called our guest bedroom in our Chicago condo home for a brief period. We were a nomad’s paradise. Or suckers.) There is something about having your family live near that makes a large and overwhelming city seem not so scary. Sharing the same vibe of a city, even with opposite lifestyles, with someone who has known you their entire life, learning to look out for one another, teach lessons, eat well, drink a little too much, meet up randomly, complain to, laugh with. Ugh. All of it was so fun. Seriously want to go back.
I can’t. Not now. We are all in the places we are meant to be. And visits will have to make up for lost time.
But I do get a little opportunity to watch a new friend-ling/sib-ship grow. On February 21 of this year, on the same day Elliott turned a whole year, Caroline celebrated her sisterversary. I didn’t make a big deal, mostly because it was enough of an ordeal just to celebrate a birthday when traveling. But I thought a lot in the days leading up and after about how grateful I am to watch these two grow up side by side. I have mentioned it before but do not feel like I could mention it too much; Caroline has accepted her role as big sister with full pride, honor, and determination. Sometimes I watch her with him so naturally and confidently and tenderly and I think, it’s like she has known him far longer than I have, like she already gets him, like she doesn’t remember a time without him.
What I have been thinking more on lately is the life lessons we are passing on to our children through the process of sharing a life together. Because while Caroline has earned her gold star in sistering, I know that relationship does not come without its struggles. I feel the most difficult part for any first child to balance is the shared life with all its love and space and things and time and attention. These are natural struggles for a multiple sibling situation, but sharing does not just begin and end with siblings. It’s a family challenge, a school and friendship challenge, a work and colleague challenge, and hopefully one day a marriage and own family challenge.
So how do we tackle this? Just learn to share? Surely it’s not that easy.
With a smaller space I have found our main living area which is also a playroom and also a mudroom and also a dining room and also a hallway and also a kitchen, this space feels tight. While it can do all those things well, it does not take long for it to feel suffocating. This is a whole lesson on managing clutter etc. that I just don’t feel I have time for. But it is also a lesson in respect.
I feel like I am very good at tolerating the mess that accompanies a three year old on a regular basis. The #struggleisreal people and no amount of singing the clean up song is going to undo that diddle. But if there is anything ripe for setting me off it is the unnecessary miscellanea that to a child’s eyes is her grocery store/tea party /day care situation, but to me is an obstacle coarse in my living room. When I feel an adult size tantrum rising to the surface, I find myself repeating this phrase “Caroline, this is a shared space, and that means we all get to use it. But if your things are in our way from using the space as we need, than that is not being respectful.” She is then reminded her room or the lofted play space is the designated make-a-mess zone. My couch can go back to being a couch and my coffee table can go back to being a coffee table. And I am not living in an episode of hoarders for at least the morning while I am trying to drink my coffee.
At first, I hesitated with this request. Maybe I wasn’t being fair, I wasn’t letting a kid be a kid. But then Elliott took to walking and crawling, which, as you may imagine, made his access to her adventure land at an arm’s reach. And as she screamed and swatted and pouted to me with, yes you all know what she is about to say, “Moooooooom! Elliott is touching my stuuuuuff!” I was able to use my same phrase on respect. This reminded her that in this space of sharing our activity and our life, she does not have to participate. She can guard her play. But she has to do that elsewhere.
While I don’t believe all things in life must be shared, and I am glad I have given her the opportunity to make that choice, what I have found is sometimes, she does actually want to be together with all of us. So now she is faced with the problem solving skills to adapt, change her play, tolerate, or figure out how share her space. With this simple reminder of respect, I feel we are teaching our children so much more than just how to live with one another. We are teaching them how to respect and share a world with those they love as much as with those they have never even met.
Adapt, change, tolerate, share. What great lessons. For our family, for our children, and for our neighbors.
I love to imagine these two, Caroline and Elliott, living in the same big city, swapping recipes, meeting for happy hour, going for a run. Sharing a space, a world, together. It will definitely not always be easy but it sure will be lots of fun to watch it unfold.