Love fills the spaces

Even while blogging during the cruise itself, I found it hard to capture in words what was the most amazing during our trip. I mean, it was amazing that my father did this for all of us; it’s the kind of vacation we never would’ve experienced, otherwise. And it was wonderful to spend time with far-flung family, and watch all the kids play together, and have our dinner waiter both prance around the dining room every night with Gerber (by the third night or so, Gerber would happily lift his arms up to him for his ride) and remember that the other kids would each be needing a glass of milk.

[Sidebar: Monkey got all teary on the last day because he wanted to take the waiter home with him. I suggested the kids make him cards and Monkey—ever our darling Literal Boy—wrote something about how “I know they don’t pay you very much money so I’m going to suggest the ship gives you a raise.” After a brief and not altogether successful conversation about how that was perhaps not the most politically correct thing to say, he changed it to “I know you work very hard so I’m going to suggest the ship give you a raise.” Phew.]

I know my father was hoping this trip would help bring the family closer together, and it did in ways I know I hadn’t really even considered.

My brother and I aren’t particularly close. And it’s not anyone’s fault, and it has nothing to do with either of us specifically, I don’t think. We live far from one another; we ran in different circles when we were kids and then went off on very different life trajectories as adults. Getting to spend some time getting reacquainted was both weird and wonderful. That part I expected.

The part I didn’t expect was how clear all of this would make it to me that you can’t underestimate these sorts of bonds, and how important their formation is from the very beginning.

I always tell the kids that friends are for as long as they last and family is forever. I am forever exhorting them to BE KIND to one another. “This is the only sister you have.” “He’s your only brother in the world.” They shoot daggers at each other with their eyes—these conversations always happen mid-scuffle—and huff and scoff at what I say. “It’s IMPORTANT,” I tell them. “When you’re a grown-up, this is the only person in the world who will have experienced your entire childhood with you as a child. It’s different. It’s special. Don’t toss that aside like it doesn’t mean anything. I promise you the day will come when you’re grateful.”

On the one hand, I really don’t worry. Chickadee and Monkey are closer than my brother and I ever were, for a number of reasons I can guess at that may or may not be relevant. (Most notably, they’re closer in age than we are.) Most of the time they get along well.

But on the other hand, we’re coming off this hard, awful school year, and on top of everything else, Chickadee’s start of middle school made her really want to pull away from her brother, both because he was harder to deal with this year and because she’s becoming very invested in being older/cooler/hipper-than-thou. And I feel like I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this past year quietly saying to her, “But he needs you. Now more than ever. Home has to be a safe place for him, Chickie. You’re a big part of that, and I need you to try harder. Do it for ME if you can’t do it for him. Please?”

Sometimes it’s hard to have a little brother. It’s especially hard to have a little brother who isn’t very good at boundaries (physical or emotional) and who is prone to annoying habits like drumming on every available surface and not getting why that’s maddening to everyone else.

And sometimes it’s hard to have a big sister. It’s especially hard to have a big sister who sometimes picks at you just to get a reaction, which always works because she knows exactly which buttons to push.

But in the midst of a swarm of extended family, inbetween the thrills of adventures in foreign countries and the novelty of adoring cousins and more aunts and uncles, I’d like to think that my children carved out their own spaces to be themselves, to be part of our larger family, and to share it all with each other, too. Monkey really tried to tone down the noise. Chickadee really tried to be sweet to him when he needed it.

And on the last morning, they sat in the hidey hole together, pointing and giggling and whispering about who knows what, the way conspirators should. And sometimes they just sat and looked, and said nothing at all.

I like to think that enough love is flowing around them that no matter where life takes them, they’ll always have ample room for one another.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone. And a special note to my brother: Your annoying little sister loves you. (P.S. No, YOU smell like a truck.)


  1. MaryP

    My three have always gotten on very well. In part, I attribute that to being home-schooled for the first few years — no peer pressure to leave ‘stupid’ little kids behind, etc., and in part it’s because they’re just nice people.

    But for a time there, when my eldest was 11 and her brother 8, I seriously worried. She was so NASTY to him. I mean, seriously evilly nasty, that at times I feared for his mental health. And I was giving the same lectures you are. “Your BROTHER! Life-long memories!” to which I added, ominously, “And one day he’ll be bigger than you, and he’ll REMEMBER this…”

    Somehow, that phase passed. I don’t think it lasted longer than a year. And now, at 24 and 21, they get on very well. I just love having all three of mine together (with the youngest, 16, the only one still living at home). The banter, the playfulness, the fun.

    Makes my mommy heart glow. :)

  2. Leandra

    My brother and I aren’t especially close either (mostly due to the almost 7 year age difference), but there is always that undefinable, unbreakable bond. It’s kind of an odd, old-fashioned quirk of his, but I love it that he never calls me by name, only “Sister.” He’s the only one in the world who can call me that.

    It bugs me that my kids fight a lot, but I know they’ll eventually grow out of it. At least I hope they will!

  3. Randi

    I have step-sisters and half-brothers, but none that I was raised with, so having at least 2 children was very important to me. I love how close they are, and that even when they’re fighting they still seem to love each other.

  4. kyran

    What an an incredible journey and what an amazing gift from your Dad. I hope he basked in it. Thanks so much for sharing this. The only thing nearly as wonderful as siblings are cousins. Sounds like your kids are rich in both xo

  5. Katie in MA

    What a wonderful, fabulous, beautiful birthday present for your dad. :) And what a wonderful memory that you know everyone in the family will have to call on when they need it.

  6. Tracy

    Because of you (and your Dad), I have decided to start saving now so I can one day afford to bring my entire family on a cruise. I think that is so awesome and I’m alittle envy of you.

    I have an older sister which I have NOTHING in common with and since my momma passed away, we see very little eye-to-eye. My children and step-children are all closer to each other than she and I ever were or will be. For that, I’m very grateful and blessed and feel as though I had something to do with it. I, like you, constantly remind them that they would one day only have each other and they should learn to get along now because as adults it will be even harder. They, all of them, are adults now and they rely on each other alot. It just makes my heart swell when I’m lucky enough to be around to witness it.

    Happy Love Thursday.

  7. Chuck

    My, they’re getting big. Very nice post, Mir! My sisters are from my mother’s first marriage so they are 9 and 11 years older than me, respectively, but we have a pretty good relationship as adults.

  8. StephLove

    This is the first day of summer vacation here in Maryland and the kids could not stop fighting in the post office for five minutes, even when cheesecake was at stake.

    And then they were all cuddly and sweet with each other on the bus to the library, but I still didn’t get the cheesecake.

    It’s going to be a long ten weeks, but I imagine they will bond, in between the arguments.

  9. Megan

    S’funny isn’t it? My sister and I are quite close in age but never really gelled together. Partly it was doing activities that kept us separate – partly it was the little-sister/big-sister thing mostly, well, I dunno what it was? When we get together now it’s always nice, we enjoy our time and it’s good to talk with someone who rolls their eyes at exactly the same things my mother says but, you know, we talk maybe once or twice a year?

    I’m glad my own children have a closer bond – glad that they WANT to skype with each other almost every night and that the older two are planning a someday-maybe trip to Korea. But mostly I’m glad that those few teenage years? When they looked like they might kill each other? Are OVER, and have left no (visible scars).

    So glad it was a magical trip!

  10. Jenn

    That is what I most regret about having an only child. There is and will always be just my daughter. And it’s why I work very hard to keep in touch with my step-sisters and their kids. It’s not the same, they’re 1,000 miles away and video stories and skype only cover so much ground. But they’re family and those relationships will be important one day.

  11. Cheryl

    You are much nicer about explaining the reasons to be nice to your children. My younger brother and I are not now, nor have we ever been particularly close. We get along okay, we just don’t have much in common. My mother, ever the realist, used to tell us, “someday, when I’m dead, who will you have Thanksgiving dinner with?”

    This is the same woman who created a family joke when she said in all seriousness while we were sitting in my grandmother’s driveway one holiday, “it’s a holiday dammit, let’s all pretend to like each other for 4 hours!” Now it’s not a holiday in my family until one of the 5 of us repeats the line. Yeah, it’s as Norman Rockwell as it appears.

  12. RuthWells

    Not only is he the only brother she has, you could add that she might need a kidney from him some day, so be nice….

    ; )

  13. karen

    Love that photo. My sister and I were terrible siblings when we were young and six years apart. We are now best friends and we’re still six years apart, but adulthood has done wonders for the gap.

    Glad you reconnected with your brother. Ten years between visits too long. Make it a yearly event. Somehow.

    another great post, Mir. You oughta be a writer or something :- )

  14. Lady M

    Love, love, love this story.

    My sister and I always got along, but didn’t become close until we got college-age (a 6 year age gap will do that do ya.) I treasure that relationship, and hope that I can keep my boys on that path. Or at least hugging in between light saber battles.

  15. dad

    Mission accomplished!
    Your readers need to know that from my perspective it was the greatest vacation ever…and I am fortunate to vacation frequently. My chest is swollen with pride to the point I’m having trouble breathing. That stuff about reaping what you sew can lead to lot of kvelling.

    I picked great people to have as relatives.

  16. Heather

    I remember my mother telling me that someday I would be friends with my little brother. I prayed and prayed for this not to happen since I couldn’t think of anything worse in the whole world. Didn’t work. We like each other now.

  17. Tirzah

    This was such a sweet post. I need to remind my own kids of this, because the incessant fighting and bickering really gets on my nerves and sometimes worries me that they will grow to expect the fighting and never want to be kind enough to stay close throughout the years.

    Thank you for this, I needed the reminder than there’s always room for good moments! :)

  18. Ali

    I second that special relationship.

    4 girls and 1 house where the upstairs was all kids (aka “the harem”) resulted in some serious knock-down, drag-out, fights but it also means that I talk to at least 1 of them every day now and our husbands roll their eyes when we whine that we haven’t talked in ages.

    Oh and, BTW, my youngest sister has totally forgiven me for bringing her to tears by convincing her that the mole right above her buttocks is where the docotr cut off her vestigal tail.

  19. LivewithFlair

    How inspiring and encouraging, especially that last picture! I have an 8 year old and a 5 year old, and sometimes they completely adore each other and other times they would feed each other to lions at the zoo. We make it through!

  20. J from Ireland

    I was doing well until I saw your Dad’s comment, now I am crying. I have four brothers that I adore, we are all close in age, live close to each other now and we all have kids similar ages. A bit tough sometimes. We all fell out for about 2 years and it was awful for everyone especially my parents. Thankfully all is well now and my parents are taking us all on holiday this year to bring us closer together.
    Mir’s Dad, you are amazing and I really admire you. I am so glad it made you so happy and I want that for my parents. Best wishes.

  21. Kailani

    If I track down a waiter for Monkey, can I trade him for your dad??

    Glad that a good time was had by all. Welcome home finally and feel better soon!

  22. Fawkesy (Rachel)

    My sister and I weren’t overly close until I was out of highschool and she was finally left to rule the roost… but now we’re best friends, and living together yet again! I can’t think of a better friend… or sister. Your kids are lucky to have each other!

  23. Brigitte

    Awww, you and your dad . . sniff!

    My siblings and I were TOO close in age, it sometimes seemed (my mom had all 4 in LESS than 4 years). But growing up and not having to live and share with with each other made us like each other LOTS more! ;-)

  24. Dawn

    When I was in my early 20s, during a conversation with my mother I suddenly realized what good friends we’d become and I realized two things: I wanted a daughter. I wanted that daughter to have a sister. In that weird way life has, it actually gave me just that. They are four years apart (not for lack of trying to have #2 sooner) and at times it’s created difficulties due to developmental stages, but for the most part they’ve always gotten along fairly well (teenaged years, I can’t remember you, la la la la!) and now at 21 and 25 they call each other best friends. Living 3,000 kms apart may be helping a bit with that… :). I’ve worked hard to encourage this friendship and it’s one of the few things in life that have turned out as I would have liked.

    Sadly, my only sibling has disappeared out of my life. I haven’t heard from my brother since 1997. I don’t know if he’s alive or dead. We were never close due to age difference and mental illness (his! I’m perfectly healthy. Yes, I am! *stamps foot*) but I sure would like to know he’s okay.

    Mir’s dad really has done the best job picking relatives, hasn’t he?

  25. Wendy 2

    My older sister and I who are 6 years apart have always gotten along fairly well and are very close now. We usually talk weekly, although lately it hasn’t been quite that often due to both of us being so busy, but we are great friends. My brother and I aren’t as close. He used to literally beat me up when we were growing up, a fact he apologizes for now. WE live fairly close to each other, but yet don’t see each other much. However, he is my brother and I love him, and I do forgive him for all the bruises. Now if only I could get him to take more of an interest in his nieces and nephew I would be happy.

  26. Aimee

    I’m a little late responding to this, but I absolutely love that picture of the two of them!

  27. Aubri

    Many times, while reading Chickie and Monkey posts, I’m reminded of my own little brother… that picture of them in the hidey-hole? Looks SO much like a picture of my brother and me. I love this post, it’s wonderful. Thanks for makin’ me all misty eyed.

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