Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sibling harmony

“We have a great plan for early release day tomorrow,” says my 14-year-old son Tim on the phone as I’m driving home late yesterday afternoon. He describes the plan, which involves him, his sister Holly and Tim’s best friend Will going out for lunch together and then coming back to our house for the afternoon.
“Of course, that’s fine,” I say, smiling to myself as we hang up.

I couldn’t have anticipated this particular bonus; it’s been a remarkable and unanticipated highlight of this school year. Specifically, that both my kids really enjoy spending time together after school, and that both of them have friends who are happy to accommodate the other sibling.

For years, whenever the topic of sibling rivalry came up, I’d find myself saying the same thing: “There’s very little that my kids argue about. But it’s because they’re different sexes and four years apart in age. What really would they argue about?” At the same time, I’ve often shared the other side of the coin: being different sexes and four years apart in age, they’ve never really had any interests in common, which didn’t matter much around home but could make it challenging to choose a vacation destination or even agree on a cultural excursion they both wanted to do.

Four years apart in age, yes, but only three years apart in school. Which means that once every four years or so, they end up on the same school schedule. This year was one of those years: with Tim in eighth grade and Holly in fifth, they are both middle schoolers.

And sometime during the fall, they fell into the habit of going to the baseball field once or twice a week after school for Frisbee games with groups of kids – groups that included friends of both of theirs. I certainly didn’t expect eighth grade boys and fifth grade girls to enjoy spending time together, but it proved to work out really well.

What’s pleasing to me is that I never had to ask them to make this work. I never had to say to Tim, “Yes, you can go to Ferns for a sandwich with Will after early dismissal, but only if you bring Holly along.” Tim just expected to bring Holly along, and neither of the boys had any problems accommodating her. Sometimes she brings a friend too. Everyone gets along.

This unexpectedly ideal situation only compounds my usual sense of time passing by too quickly, though. Their perfect harmony will likely be disrupted by the fall; Tim will be off to high school and Holly still in middle school for three more years. They’ll be on different schedules and attending schools in different towns. Moreover, Tim will probably make new friends who might not find it quite so natural to have a very small and much younger girl and her friends hanging out with them. Or Holly might not find it quite such a novelty to be part of Tim’s group.

So it’s yet another thing that I’ll just have to appreciate as long as it lasts while also being aware it won’t last long. Today is a monthly early dismissal day; the two of them will go out to lunch with a couple of Tim’s friends and maybe one or two of Holly’s friends. It might not happen many more times; it might even not ever happen again. And of course, they have no sense of the rapid passing of time at all; they’ll find this particular ritual noteworthy only when they look back on it after these excursions are no longer happening. So it’s up to me to appreciate it right now, and be happy the two of them and Tim’s friends and Holly’s friends all enjoy each other’s company. They might appreciate it only in retrospect, but I appreciate it right now, in real time.

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