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Good news: you can now add “stuffed animal hostage negotiator” to my impressively growing repertoire.

This morning, this is the stuffed zebra we all cried over.

I really don’t know what it is like to have siblings – in the traditional sense. In a line of 5 kids, I am the last, but there is a 14 year gap between #5(me), and #1 (my oldest sister). Growing up, my siblings were a potent combination of loving caregiver and mythical playmate: everything they did was cool and I wanted to be just like them. They were older and off doing things: big, important things. They popped home from time to time from various adventures (you know, like backpacking across the country, and college, and medical school, and moving to Hawaii, stuff like that). On these few and various visits with them, I didn’t really have to share with them, I just basked in their coolness.

When my brother graduated high school and left for some adventure, my parents got me a dog. Oscar the dachshund was the epitome of a canine companion. He always patiently listened. He snuggled, he calmed, he played, he was just there, in the very important way that dogs are. For all intents and purposes, he was my sibling. We only squabbled a couple of times, like when I was ten, and got up to go to the bathroom, and he ate the entire contents of my Easter basket. I quickly forgave him. I even didn’t mind cleaning up his indiscretion, because, you know, dogs really aren’t designed to devour chocolate bunnies, marshmallow peeps, and jelly beans.

Fast forward 2 decades later, and I am actively watching sibling dynamics play out, every day, in front of my eyes. It is so interesting. Never before have I seen such intimate relationships develop. These two simultaneously take joy in both aggravation and devotion. They love to give each other fits of frustration only to dissolve in fits of giggles moments later. They love to bug each other and bug me if I separate them for too long. This morning I was at a loss of words. We were all crying over this dang, stuffed zebra. Dear 5 year old, you have had that zebra for years. You only want it now because your brother has grown outrageously fond of it. Until now, you never gave that zebra the time of day! Why, why on earth, do you wait until a busy chaotic week day morning when I am trying to get the three of us out the door, yucky antibiotic into the 2 year old, and everyone in the car, to pick a fight about the stuffed zebra? I offered few words and walked away. And guess what? They handled it. When I returned to the scene, the zebra had changed hands and all was peaceful in our world. For now. Maybe I helped? I can’t say for sure. One thing I do know, there is a dynamic here, the art of sibling-hood that works both with or without me. At any given moment, much is taking place: they are both fighting and defending against and for one another, starting and resolving conflict, and experimenting with compassion and competition.

Oxford Dictionary says that art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” Sibling-hood is not always appreciated, but often holds striking emotional power. In sibling dynamics, I see two little people applying and expressing themselves, and figuring out life together. Sure, body slamming each other is not as aesthetically pleasing as a painting or sculpture, but I’m often surprised at the creativity it involves. As I blinked through my tears (that zebra pushed me over the edge, ya’ll), I realized that this was a reason that I wanted more than one: the front row seat to watching the art of sibling-hood. It ain’t always pretty in the moment, but much of art is like that. Or worse, the art is not even appreciated until long after the artist is gone. Through my frustration, I prayed to appreciate the moment of right now.

I’ll also confess that I’ve started the daydream that involves the art of maturity: our kids grow into adulthood, have their own children, and realize how fantastically freaking awesome their mom is :).

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