Excellence addendum

By Mir
April 22, 2011

“Friends will come and go. Your family is forever. You only get one brother, and you only get one sister. This is it.” I do a small mental-finger-crossing whenever I speak these words to my children, because of course their father could yet remarry and bring more siblings into their lives, but with each passing year it seems less likely, and I don’t own a crystal ball, anyway, so I feel okay about asserting the finality of their circumstances.

They fight. All kids do, of course. I don’t think they fight any more than “average” siblings (whatever those are), but it’s possible I fret about it more than I should. I know what they don’t, which is that they need each other even more than other kids. Monkey needs an ally in his sister because his forays into the world are sometimes harder than they ought to be, and as I keep telling Chickadee, we owe it to him to always make sure home is a place of safety and love. And Chickadee needs her brother more than she admits, because–although she’s starting to spread her wings—there is a hard little knot of uncertainty deep between her shoulder blades that only the worship of her little brother can soften.

When they work together, there is nothing they can’t handle.

When they are cruel to one another, fear and memories I’d half-forgotten uncurl, restless, in my stomach.

I try not to overreact. That only makes it worse, and I know that sometimes I carry my own demons into these situations. I try to keep it about them. And I try to emphasize that fights happen, but we all love each other and that’s the important thing.

Have you ever preached love to a couple of pissed-off tweens? It works about as well as you might guess. Which is to say: not at all.

Monkey is typically awful to his sister in times of total meltdown, which means that his jabs and cruelties are explosive and piercing, though thankfully rare. When she does evoke his ire, she gets the worst of it, no question.

Much more common are Chickadee’s small but deadly poke-the-animal-with-a-stick tactics when she’s either mad at someone else or just feeling bored and not very nice. And the thing is, siblings are annoying to one another, of course. But (generally speaking, anyway), Monkey annoys his sister completely by accident, while she often revels in annoying him on purpose. Which can then spark a meltdown. Which leaves her complaining that HE HIT ME or whatever, and while he’s not allowed to hit, that also means we all know she did something to provoke it.

So that’s the preface to what happened a few weeks ago, when the kids were upstairs talking to their father on the phone, and suddenly Monkey let loose a primal shriek of unmistakeable agony that left us racing up the stairs.

All that was clear, initially, was that Monkey had been kicked in the groin hard enough to leave him crumpled in a heap on the floor. We were horrified, but Chickadee was absolutely unrepentant, insisting that he’d “lunged at her” as they’d squabbled over the phone. In very short order BOTH kids were wailing and Chickadee was in Very Big Trouble but we still weren’t sure what had happened.

After about an hour, it became clear that the kick ended up being an accident of balance and leverage. They’d scuffled over the phone; Monkey tried to grab it, knocking Chickadee down, and her leg went out as she fell back, and now she felt very much the wronged party because it had been an accident.

Monkey snuffled in his room, asking for a lock on his door “so that Chickie can’t come in here in the middle of the night and kill me.” (I tell you what, Aspie Fear drama puts Tween/Teen Girl drama to SHAME.) Chickadee wailed in her room about how he never gets in trouble, everything is always her fault, and no one loves her.

Otto and I took turns going between them, trying to smooth various hurts, trying to put them back together again. I ached, for both of them.

Finally, as Monkey continued his endless lament, I said, “Are you never going to be able to have kids?” And this comment was, for some reason, so hilarious to him, that it broke him out of his self-dug DoomHole and he cheered up because I am so weird.

Then it was back to Chickadee to try to get her calmed down and ready to come apologize to her brother. And again, I found myself repeating how this is important, he’s her only brother, things are going to happen and it’s not whether they never fight or never hurt each other, but how they fix it, afterward. “You have to come apologize, sweetie. He needs to know you’re sorry.”

“He’s so mad at me, he’s not going to accept my apology!” she cried. “He’s just going to be mad at me forever and I didn’t mean to hurt him!” We talked some more and finally she was willing to walk down to her brother’s room with me.

Monkey lay in his bed, back to her. She put a hand on his arm and he didn’t move. “Monkey, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He stayed immobile. Another tear trickled down Chickie’s face and she added, desperate, “Please forgive me.”

There was a pause. I had long enough to pray that he would accept her apology, lest he now decide to dig in his heels and we’d have to go through several more rounds of Operation Everyone Stop Being Mad At Everyone Else. The silence stretched. I was holding my breath.

Finally, Monkey turned over to face his tormentor. “Well,” he huffed, “I’m never going to be able to have kids, now.”

“You… what??” Chickadee’s confusion broke the dam, and he started laughing, and then she started laughing, and then they hugged and finally, everyone could go to bed. They were okay.

She only gets one brother. He only gets one sister. Sometimes they show each other their worst, but a lot of the time they show each other their very best. I hope they will always be more excellent to each other than awful. I think they will.


  1. Momsy


  2. RuthWells

    You’re making me cry, here.

    For what it’s worth, my younger brother drove me absolutely batshit when we were kids. He justifiably earned the nickname “brat” when he was around Monkey’s age for his constant (successful) attempts to annoy, upset, or generally get a rise out of me. Now, many years later, he is one of my most favorite people in all the world, and would be even if we weren’t related. So, you never know.

  3. Damsel

    What an awesome story, and a great picture!!! Thanks for sharing these little glimpses with us!

  4. Kristi

    Aww! Your kids melt my heart. We just had this discussion last night. “You’re all you got. You better love one another.” There was much eye rolling.

  5. melissa

    There is a six-year age difference between my younger brother and I. Growing up, we were like oil and water 80% of the time. The age difference was such that I never wanted him trailing after me. NEVER.

    Now, we are 30 and 24 and couldn’t be closer. I am sure some of it was my mom and dad repeated the mantra “You only have one brother/sister.” and some of it came with living in separate spaces now. He is an awesome uncle to my daughter and a great all-around guy. He switched his work schedule so we could take the train together into the city for work. We text all the time and tease and generally have fun.

    Take heart, Mir. It may not happen this year or the next, but some day Monkey and Chickadee will voluntarily have the relationship you hope for them. I’m sure of it.

  6. KGP

    There are eight years between me and my big sister, my only sibling. The age gap meant less competition between us than siblings who are closer in age, but still, every single time we had a big blow up, my mother said the same words: “I’d give my right arm for a sister.” She would also make us sit across the kitchen table from one another in silence until we made up. Which we always did, usually by making fun of her.

    In fact, the above story was the basis for my sister’s toast as matron of honor at my wedding.

    Eventually, Chickadee and Monkey will get there too.

  7. Beth R

    And just think, it’s not going to be too much longer until Monkey will be able to carry Chickadee piggy-back! :)

    I’m an only, so I can’t truly understand the agonies of siblings, but I think you’re dealing with them as well as possible. Recognize the issue, offer the apology, and remember that you really do love each other.

  8. bonuela

    i feel safe when i have a (rare) fight with my sister. i know she can’t “break up” with me like a friend or partner. she will always be there.

  9. Aubri

    Oh, how I love that picture at the end… and her sweet Cyndi Lauper hat. :-)

    They remind me of my brother and I… and we’re still best buds.

  10. AC

    I could terrify you with some of the tortures that 5-years-younger sister and I dreamed up for one another. Let’s just say that my dad totally blames us for his hair loss (genetics, be damned).
    But now we talk 3-4 times a day. If a day passes without such communication, one of us will invariably call the other and say “Are we on a break?”. My sister is my BFF and I wouldn’t know what to do without her now….thankfully, I wasn’t successful in my attempts to rid the world of her presence ;)
    Wishing the same for yours…one day.

  11. Tenessa

    I LOVE this. My brothers (twins) are four years younger than me and we got on great most of the time until I was about 15. That’s when I decided that I couldn’t be bothered to “play” with them and they decided that my many, and varied, and LARGE buttons were the most fun to push if pushed often. So there were times in the last three years I lived at home that I would have happily strangled one or the other of my brothers (who need TWO identical brothers ANYWAY?!?). Now? We all live in the same town several states away from where we grew up. We hang out. We talk on the phone. Our kids are close. Sure, we have drama moments (our family is NOTHING if not dramatic), but we kiss and make-up and get back to having a great relationship.

    Also “I tell you what, Aspie Fear drama puts Tween/Teen Girl drama to SHAME.” I can attest to this. FOR SURE!

  12. Ariel

    Oh, the fights we had as kids… it was truly terrible, it was, and I’m sure my mom was ready to tear out her hair.
    But for what it’s worth, by our late teens, my brother Ian and I (I have three!) were really fantastic friends and even though he was younger than I was, he had stepped up to the plate in the “give my sister shit and I will hurt you” role, and I can honestly say he was one of my best friends.
    He died 10 years ago in a car accident and all I can say is, I love him, I miss him, and I’m so grateful for every day we had together. :)

  13. elz

    I was hoping you’d blog this story. Such a great story-I mean, poor Monkey and all, but, still a good story of love, forgiveness, and humor. I often tell my girls the same thing-you need to be kind to each other and learn to live with each other because she is your sister for the rest of your life. Whatever happens, your sister will always be there. Always.

  14. vivian

    He’s not heavy-He’s my brother.

  15. Karen R.

    Awww. And “I tell you what, Aspie Fear drama puts Tween/Teen Girl drama to SHAME” — Dare I tell you that it doesn’t get any better when they are adults? (Writes she who frantically pulled a screaming adult “My father is going to beat me!” through a major department store.)

  16. Kana

    As a single child, I read this with a wistfulness that the author does not perhaps intend; the love and rage that siblings share is something I have never known. Although I am no expert on the subject, being outside the phenomena has shown me this; the hurt and love they give one another better equips them for their peers and society in general. Because there is a bond of family and the most loving of all intermediaries, the parents, to help heal the wounds inflicted on these kids by one another, they learn about the very real pain of anger, jealousy, competition, et al. This makes them more practiced in the schoolyard world of frenemies and subtle bullies. I can’t claim to know their particulars, and if they will be close as adults, but they are helping each other learn to get through peer-inflicted pain with you and your spouse’s loving help, and I am very, very happy for your children, because they are being given a great head start.

    Plus, apparently you have the ability to make your tweens laugh – that’s practically a superpower. If they do anything other than roll their eyes at you, its a win.

  17. Amy-Go

    My brother and I finally became friends virtually at the exact moment that we stopped sharing a bathroom. Food for thought.

  18. Heather

    Oh but you are hard on the mascara! That was really lovely, Mir, and especially poignant since my sister is visiting at the moment, and of course, she can get to me like nobody else – it was good to have a reminder of why it’s important to err on the side of grace.

  19. heather

    I remember my mother explaining that one day my brother and I would be close. I prayed so hard that that would never happen. LOL. It did though even if I couldn’t imagine anything worse as a kid.

  20. Daisy

    Just so you know there is hope — I once told my daughter it seemed she required that her boyfriends enjoy her brother (5 years younger, blind, Asperger’s). I referred to it as a “love me, love my brother” deal. She said, “But mom, what’s not to love? All my friends like him!” With a huge lump in my throat, I realized she was right. He’ll go out to Buffalo Wild Wings or go bowling with his sister & company and they’ll have a blast.

    They’ll make it. They’re building a foundation that will last.

  21. Stephanie

    Your kids are lucky to have you to help them see the big picture. I am sure they will be fine, and ultimately, great “friends” as adults.

  22. Nancy R

    LOVE the picture.

    Completely unrelated: Last night I dreamed that you were camping with us (I don’t camp), but then we were just around the firepit in the backyard, and you slept over (in our house). The strangest part? My vacuum cleaner was out by the firepit with us. It was too bizarre NOT to share. :)

  23. Chuck

    AWESOME picture.

  24. Cele

    Great picture, and Chickie’s hat is awesome.

  25. The Mommy Therapy

    This holiday weekend has already been filled with equal parts of sibiling love that brings me to tears and sibling horror that brings me to tears. Mine are only 5 and 3, my emotional roller coaster, and their’s better be well equipped for many, many, many more years of this.

    How ignorant am I to be shocked that they both got the not able to have kids joke? Love it.

  26. Lynn in Mass

    Cute picture. Great story of sibling fighting and making-up. I have several memories of my brother and I fighting but, I’m glad I also have several memories of us getting along and playing board games together. He has moved away several miles now and we talk occasionally (mostly on the computer). He has found a girl to marry and I am happy for him (and happy that I like her).

  27. Jen

    I always tell my two boys that they need to get along, because who else is going to team up with them against the Evil Parents?

    Thanks for the story and the picture.

  28. Stimey

    Thank goodness for siblings. My kids regularly try to murder each other, but having a solid, permanent unit? THAT is why I had three kids.

    I LOVE the photo!

  29. Ingrid


    Love the picture at the end!

  30. Liza


  31. Sheppitsgal

    Is it wrong that I am imagining a phone dangling somewhere, with their dad at the other end, saying ‘Hello? Hello?’ Heehee.

    My brother and I used to be just the same, but he was the older one. Now, at ages 42 and 38, we get along great. Hope Chickie and Monkey will be the same, in fact, I am SURE they will :)

    Hugs x

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