I’ve got a picture of Julia on my computer desktop at work. Sometimes I have a picture of Alex. Or sometimes both of them. I change it every week or so.
But right now it’s Julia. It’s the picture of her from my previous post – she’s in her diaper, outside, with the ice cream in one hand…pointing somewhere past the whale pool with her other hand. My favorite part of the picture, besides her beautifully chunky legs – is the look on her face. Just look at that face. She is a ball-buster. She is an instigator. I don’t remember what that look may have been about…she was probably watching Alex do something wild and crazy. It doesn’t matter. I just love the look.
She is a handful. She will continue to be a handful, I know. I can tell. She is fully aware of herself as an individual, and she knows what she wants and how things should go. She is sometimes bossy. She orders Alex around and it freaks my husband out because Alex obeys.
She drives him crazy. "Him" being Alex. She also drives Bill crazy, but from a slightly different angle. She is her brother’s best playmate one minute, and his torturer the next. One minute they are overcome with laughter – heavy, helpless belly laughs that make me stop whatever I’m doing just to listen and appreciate the beauty of that sound and how lucky we are to have these two healthy kids. And the next minute they are both screaming – demonstrating enormous breath control as they fight over a toy. The other night it was a stegosaurus. It’s technically Alex’s, but he’s got around 35 assorted dinosaurs, so in theory he should be able to share ONE. But no. Not at that moment. Because he is four. They scream with instant toddler rage – high pitched screams that summon all dogs in a 20 mile radius to our house.
They sing together in the car…Beatles tunes at the moment…Alex knows a lot of the words to the 7-10 songs they listen to each day to and from daycare…Julia chimes in usually with the last word of a line. They each have favorites and songs they don’t like. Sometimes we skip around on the CD and I’ll accept requests. Other times I threaten to turn the music off if they don’t stop yelling.
"Wanna hear ‘Ticket-a-Wide!’ "
"Mommy I don’t want to hear that, I want to hear ‘It’s Got to Be a Hard Day’s Night!’ "
They point out things they see on one side of the car or the other…"Alex! Wookit! Dirt Truck! See? Alex see? Wookit a DIRT TRUCK!!!!" And they – especially Alex – seem to consider it a win if the interesting thing is on THEIR side of the car. "Mommy, the geese are on MY side of the car, not Julia’s!" – like they had anything to do with where the geese chose to land….
Julia copies Alex sometimes. She’ll repeat things he says…and follow him around and try to do what he does…which is fun for him sometimes, and incredibly annoying other times. But then there are times he will want her to play with him, and she won’t want to…and he gets upset because she wants to do her own thing once in a while – without him. Or he’ll be very put out because she won’t share a toy with him, even though ten minutes ago he hoarded all his zoo animals and wouldn’t let her hold even one.
They are vastly different from each other, and yet they spring from the same family, and so they are linked together in a way they will never be linked with anyone else in their lives. It is a for better or for worse thing – without their having had any say in it. They did not choose each other as brother and sister…it was the luck of the draw. Our luck and theirs. They will go through this over and over I’m sure. This love/hate…this "play with me"/"go away" dance. I hope, once they get past all the tough growing up stuff, that they will go through the rest of their lives happy that they have each other.
I know I do. My sister is two years younger than I am. Just like Julia is two years younger than Alex. Different dynamics, of course…different families, different zodiac signs, different gender combinations…different practically everything.
But still. I watch them together, Alex and Julia, playing and squabbling and hugging and pulling hair. And I am happy for them.
I think back about Meredith and me as kids. We played together…and didn’t play together. Sometimes I wanted to read…and Mere would want me to come outside and play…and I would tell her "As soon as I finish this chapter…" and I’d finish that chapter and go on to read the next. I look back on that and think how horrible I was, because I now watch Julia when she wants Alex to play with her and I feel so terrible for her when he doesn’t want to. I won’t force him to play with her, because if he wants to play by himself, he’s entitled…but still…I’m looking at things differently now. I can see both sides instead of just mine.
We had our share of squabbles as kids. But for whatever reason, we really didn’t rat each other out about stuff. We closed ranks. I remember us fighting or yelling about something in our bedroom and the door would burst open and one parent or the other would be there, demanding to know what the fight was all about…and we would clam up. "Nothing!"
At some point during our childhood my mother told us that if we ever became like Grandpa (our Dad’s father) and Aunt Anna (one of Grandpa’s sisters) she’d come back to haunt us. Grandpa and his sister didn’t speak for twenty years and one or the other of them died before that fence could be mended. My mother is an only child…and didn’t ever have to share her toys UNWILLINGLY with anyone…so she didn’t necessarily understand that bickering is normal. You have to have heated arguments in order to learn how to have polite disagreements, I think. But I think my mother feared that we would go to that same extreme that Grandpa and Anna, and so she didn’t want us fighting at all…sort of trying to head things off at the pass….
We are different in a lot of ways, my sister and me. But we are similar too. We have the same sense of humor – heartless and inappropriate though it may be at times. We can crack eath other up about the dumbest things…and we laugh – heavy, helpless belly laughs….
One day shortly after Julia turned two, we three were coming down the stairs. Alex, then Julia, then me. Alex got to the bottom of the stairs and then, instead of dashing off, he turned to watch Julia make her way down. She had been going up and down stairs successfully for several months, but Alex seemed to become aware of it that morning. He stood at the bottom of the stairs and exclaimed "Mommy! Julia’s going down the stairs ALL BY HERSELF! Because she’s TWO!" He watched his baby sister with a look of wonder and pride on his big brother face…and encouraged her "Come on Julia! You can do it!" And as she neared the bottom, Julia called out to Alex "Here she comes!" and made her way down the last three steps. When she got to the floor Alex shouted "She did it! Julia you did it! Good job, Julia! High five!" And the two of them slapped their little hands together…huge smiles on their faces.
I hope they are always like that. HIgh fives and shouts of encouragement to each other.
My sister has been doing karate for several years now and has recently been accepted into the black belt testing cycle. If all goes well, she will get her black belt this fall. I am already so proud of her that my chest feels like it will explode sometimes. (I am, clearly, the geeky, goofy, melodramatic one.) I am so excited for her and about what she is doing…and I admire the fact that she does what she does without fanfare. She just does it. I talk things to death…and I don’t follow through at times because maybe I spoke too soon…but she knows herself. She does not over talk things. She just does them. I admire that. I admire that she started doing karate as an adult. I don’t think I have the guts to do that. I know I don’t. But I am so enormously thrilled that she does.
High fives and shouts of encouragement.
Her kids are around ten years older than mine. So she has been through all of the things I am going through now. We both have a boy and a girl. The boys are the first borns. The girls were/are the hellions. I tell her what my kids have done, and she remembers hers doing that too…or I tell her I feel like a big LOSER because I can’t get myself to exercise on any kind of regular basis, and she tells me she couldn’t either when her kids were that age…and that at this stage of the game, you do what you can do, and don’t beat yourself up about the rest of it.
High fives and shouts of encouragement.
We talk practically every day, in some form or other. Emails back and forth while we’re at work…a phone call or two over the weekend, or a visit.
We can speak in shorthand. "Kidney beans" – just one of us sasying that to the other is hysterically funny but only to us and it’s too long to go into and probably wouldn’t be AS funny to anyone else, so never mind. But you probably know what I mean. You maybe do that with your own siblings, if you have any. Or with your oldest friend…spouse…someone. I hope you do, anyway.
Just now the kids were downstairs fighting about something…Julia did something to Alex but he probably did something to her first…who knows. I separated them and told them if I hear anything more, I’d shut off "Shrek." It was quiet for a moment, but then it started up again. Bill just shut off "Shrek" and Alex is sobbing loudly.
But it will turn around. It always does. In a little while they will be playing together and laughing. Heavy, helpless belly laughs.
Okay, maybe not immediately…but I can hear Julia trying to get Alex to stop crying. She can be very sweet and caring at times…when she’s not pinching or hitting or throwing his toys into the next room.
* Note…I just finished re-reading this post because I knew I’d spelled a few things wrong…and at this moment there are no more tears or screaming. They are in the living room with my husband, building towers with Legos…and knocking them down.