It was another perfect Brisbane day and the girls and I were enjoying mum and dad’s pool. They had been playing pretty nicely up to that point, which was a welcome relief. I’ve become so tired of the bickering and button pushing. Lately they’ve taken their competitiveness to a new level, especially if they’re with me. I’m sick of putting out fires between them over absolutely nothing and reminding them I love them both the damn same, and please, could they JUST..TALK..NICELY TO EACH OTHER!!
But today it was going well. Until it wasn’t.
I can’t even tell you what happened to trigger the outburst, but all of a sudden, it was drama central. Phemie annoyed Reina. Reina didn’t want to play. Phemie started to plead with her, Reina said something unkind or dismissive…Suddenly it was all too much for Phemie. Her beautiful face crumpled as she turned to me and whimpered, “I’m trying to be a good big sister, aren’t I?” Oh my baby girl. You are a good sister. I pulled her into my arms and let her cry into my chest. “You are a wonderful big sister,” I told her, as she sobbed and my heart melted.
She does try. She tries so hard. I think that’s part of the problem. She tries too hard. She cares too much about Reina’s responses to her- because she loves her. She feels hurt so easily, quickly, and deeply- because she loves her. She expects too much in return from her sister for her efforts- because she wants her love returned. She expects appreciation and affection and when it’s not forthcoming she starts to fall apart a little, initially with aggression, followed by tears and hurt. I suspect Reina gets a whiff of the power she holds and gets a little high on it. She is six, after all, and she’s a spunky little thing. We all remember that moment when an overexcited 4 year old Phemie thought it would be amusing to roar like a lion in Reina’s face. 18 month old Reina didn’t agree. Phemie didn’t stop so Reina punched her in the face. Of course we then had a big talk about how violence isn’t the answer and I definitely did not dissolve into fits of giggles. Ahem.
Back to here and now, Phemie really is a wonderful big sister, mostly very patient and accommodating with her “cou cou crazy” little sister. Naturally she has her moments you’d expect from any big sister, especially one who is 9 and approaching puberty. I’m not sure I can honestly say Reina is a lovely little sister too, as much as I’d like to. Is there such a thing at this age? What do we expect of little sisters? Not a lot really. Just to try to be kind to her big sister and play nicely, whereas the big sisters have all the expectations laid on them.
How many times do older siblings get asked to share their always coveted items (only to be broken or damaged by developing little hands), lead by example (which never seems to be followed), help their little sister with things we parents are too tired or lazy to do (which seems quite unjust) and put their needs on hold when the little one requires more of our time and attention (which is practically always). I feel for Phemie. We ask a lot of her, and I can feel how hard it is for her sometimes. The other night she was triggered again by Reina being Reina, and almost cried herself to sleep with Chab by her side as she wept that she wanted me to put her to sleep that night (we take turns, and that night was Reina’s turn to “have mama”), even though I reminded her I would come in to see her once Reina was asleep. “It’s not fair,” she cried in between sobs, “Reina always gets everything she wants, and she’s the favourite and don’t deny it.”
Sigh. I went into Reina, gave her a cuddle and allowed a tear to fall as I felt my eldest daughter’s pain that I couldn’t allay.
“Reina,” I said gently. “Phemie loves you so much. She adores you.”
“No she doesn’t,” she whispered into my shoulder.
“She does. She has always loved you Reina. You know, when you were growing in my tummy, Phemie gave you a kiss and said goodnight to you, every single night. And we all know you love her too. You would always be there if someone was trying to hurt her. And she would always be there for you, ready to defend you at any moment.”
Reina’s enormous chocolate eyes welled up and she snuggled into me, weeping softly.
“Please Reina, please try to remember this, even when she’s talking meanly and getting upset. You are sisters. We love you both, and you love each other. What’s the most important thing?”
“Yes. Family and being kind. There’s nothing more important.”
Seconds later she was sleeping peacefully.
The following morning Reina asked Phemie about the kisses goodnight. She did. The rest of the car ride was very quiet, as something eased and softened between them. I now have a recent memory to draw on when they’re being cranky and unkind, to remind them of this knowing they both have in there somewhere, that they do actually care for each other very deeply, despite being very different people. Reina has always been so chilled and self assured (often the way with second children), she just doesn’t care as much what other people think about her as Phemie does. She knows she’s cool, and nothing can shake that self belief…which is wonderful! Phemie is much more pensive and cautious, always thinking 5 steps ahead, usually about all the ways something could go wrong. Reina just thinks about the fun that could be had and dives in. We’ve always said that the way they are, Phemie helps keep Reina safe, and Reina helps Phemie be brave.
They are actually perfect for each other. One day they will know it.