Some mornings are full of chirping birds, glowing sunlight and joyful smiles to greet the day. My daughters wake up with eyes only for each other. They roll around in giggles, tickling and laughing. On these mornings, they bound out of the bedroom to play on their own, and bless their hearts, allow me an extra ten minutes of sleep.
Then, there are days that start with screaming, bickering and teary-eyed whining. They welcome the day with huffs and puffs and hands on hips. Their 4- and 6-year-old fury hangs heavy in the morning air. On these days, I'm a referee before I've even opened my eyes.
I'm an only child and completely dumbfounded by the dynamics of their relationship. I am told, however, by other adults who have survived childhood siblinghood that this is par for the course. They tell me that this is just the beginning; things will continue as-is or worsen before true love swallows them whole in a big bubble of sister PDA. They assure me my daughters will come out the other side just fine, unscathed by their daily torment of each other, all Pippa and Kate-like.
The bipolar nature of sisterhood leaves me, an only child, completely baffled. As a young girl, I dreamed of having a sister. We would brush each other's hair, share secrets, face life's ups and downs as a team and act as each other's protector, each other's biggest cheerleader. No part of my vision included annoying the crap out of each other every other second. I wasn't entirely naïve; disagreements are a natural part of any relationship. Trouble is, I imagined they'd be resolved with the dimpled smiles, group hugs and the kind of heartwarming "aw, shucks" of a Charles In Charge episode.
Even in my most intimate friendships, I've never experienced the emotional polarity of sisters. My friends are the people with whom I can be my most brutally honest, vulnerable and silly. We share great moments of laughter and secrets and silence. We endure months, sometimes years, apart. We annoy each other and disagree. But somehow, in my 30+ years, have never had an all out battle of the wraths with any of my nearest and dearest friends.
Don't get it twisted. For every second of crazy they unleash on each other, they've got hours of unbridled love to share. However, being an only child raising young children, where as the saying goes the days are long but the years are short, it's the nails-on-the-chalkboard moments which are hyper-magnified for me. I'm left slack-jawed at how their tender hearts survive the ups and downs of a 60+ year marriage in the span of a day, every day. But they do. And they have an abundance of love and forgiveness for each other that is completely foreign to me.
I watch them with complete fascination, like discovering a new life form on Mars. Their sisterhood fills me with joy and an emotion which I can only describe as .05% fear and 94.05% WTF. Those are the ends of my scales when I observe them and I regularly teeter totter from either extreme. As frustrating as it is to watch them be less than kind to each other, I've learned my feelings about their sisterhood are mine to deal with, not theirs. Once each of my daughters was old enough to get on the other's nerves, my instincts had me jumping in at every squabble, big and small. I wanted them to get along all nice-nice so I tried to settled their battles. I quickly realized I rarely ever actually helped the situation. I was applying my only child logic to a sister relationship I know nothing about.
I've since figured out to keep out of the way. I'm most helpful when I let them have it out and give them the space to find their way back to each other. It isn't so bad when I try to comfort each one individually on the merits of their own unique emotion,s but when I try to fiddle with the sister dynamic I tend to make matters worse. Two things to note: First, having it out is all about letting their emotions run their course as long as they're not hurting anyone. If they start hitting or throwing things, then I intervene, lest you think I've got a wrestling ring of some sort in our living room. Second, comforting is a matter of validating their feelings and gently reminding them of the emotional skills we've been nurturing since birth (translation: using our words and kindness, call it the religion we're currently practicing). So, I resist my natural urges to make them hug it out. I let them be, huffing and puffing, stomping feet, arms crossed tight across their chest, angry faces in full effect.
I let them be. I never really understood how much of a juggling act raising sisters would be. You've got to learn how each one needs to be loved. You've got to learn how each one communicates best. You've got to learn how to soothe tempers in the best way for each individual. I've got to do all of these things without setting off the other sibling during a disagreement. I've got to be a leader for my daughters when some days, I just want to lie on the couch and watch Dirty Dancing all day long.
All of this to say, I don't know what I'm doing but, like all parents, I'm figuring it out as I go along. And like all parents, my children are my teachers and, my fellow parents, insightful tutors. They love each other as fiercely as they annoy each other so I'm doing something right. I can't raise two only children. All I can do is love them each individually and let my love for each be an example of how they should love one another.