Friday, February 10, 2012

At Long Last....

First, an apology--to anyone who found themselves on this blog recently and registered the fact that my last post was about two years ago. My youngest son (I have two) is just over two years old. There are other writers with kids who seem to have figured out how to get everyone fed, get them to school on time, tend to illnesses and just hang with them, etc. without losing some productivity. But for me, it's a work in progress. Slowly, slowly, I am figuring it out. Henceforth, I hope to be on here more regularly.

Second..A little musing. In my last post, I wrote about not having witnessed much sibling fighting...a state of affairs which feels very remote and amusing right now. Two years on, I have witnessed A LOT of sibling fighting. And while the prospect of it, two years ago, clearly filled me with apprehension and dismay, I can happily say it doesn't now. And it's not just that I'm used to it, though that's definitely part of it.

It's that it's so clear to me, watching Henry and Luke go at it, that they are working on things--relating, empathy, compassion, knowing how to push the other's buttons (i.e. getting into one another's heads, a phenomenon psychologists refer to as theory of mind). Having a sibling is a relationship PhD. And like most PhD work--so I hear--it's not always fun. To experience or to watch. But I'm blown away by the way that our relationships with siblings force us to learn to deal with others, and ourselves.

Overall, I think it's a good thing. But what will they think, twenty years on, when they're looking back on their early lives and cataloging the good and the bad?

Last night we were at a book party, and I got to talking to a friend who is writing a book about couples deciding to have only one child. She asked me if I'd had a second because I wanted one, or because I wanted a sibling for Henry. I didn't have a short answer for her on that one. (In fact it's a freaking long story.)

But it got me thinking about how profoundly we changed Henry's life by adding Luke to the mix--from having to share attention and the aforementioned PhD work, to the ever present playmate (they play a lot now). And then there's Luke...who has grown up with this enormous presence, in the form of Henry, to love and admire and also to challenge, as he increasingly does, for his place in the ecosystem.

It's staggering and a little scary, the power we have as parents, to change someone's life to the degree that you change a child's when you make him a sibling. And yet, we can't wait until they're adults to ask them how they feel about the decision.

You hold your nose and jump. Or at least that's what I did. And that's what I told my friend. I couldn't find any logical inroad into making the decision that would stick, so I just went with my gut.
And here we are. Watching it play out.


Tracie said...

loved this post. so thoughtful.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you!

Deborah Heiligman said...

I always heard you shouldn't get a second cat to keep the first cat company. I think it's probably the same with siblings. So I do agree that you should have a second child because you really want one, not because you think your first child will be happier with a sibling. But factor in that having a second child, if all works out as it often does, will make your life richer (and in some rare moments easier). And I think my sons are really glad they have each other. They certainly are when there are two of them to tease me.

Elizabeth said...

I'm laughing because I did once get a second cat to keep the first one company and the elder cat let me know, very quickly, what a boneheaded decision I'd made. They eventually became quite companionable, but the older one would have been happy as an only cat. I think many would be happy as only kids. I think what struck me in that conversation last night was how dramatically Henry's life would have been different if we'd only had him...and how almost wrong it seems that we had the power to change his life in that way without his being able to offer a viewpoint. He enjoys Luke more than he doesn't now, and I hope it stays that way...As a sibling who was rendered an only child by my brother's untimely death, I have a bit of an idealized notion of what it would mean to have that relationship for a much longer time.