I have to admit to a certain delight in seeing a one year old attempt to go toe-to-toe with a tall five-year old. It’s so damn bold that it’s almost heroic. It reminds me of the George Carlin observation about the single weed growing through the crack in the sidewalk. It’s a thing to be marveled at. It’s like “Notice me, world! I exist!” Charlie is finding himself consistently attempting to get the world to notice him in and manner that he can. Jack is seemingly rather content with his world and would, so it seems, rather Charlie not be as big a part of it as he tends to be.
When the two of them are playing together it’s basically a countdown to when Jack is going to release an epic HUFF following by “Charlie, don’t.” It’s a sight to behold. The same waddling mass of upper body and tiny legs is regarded with utmost love and adoration 20 minutes earlier among other friends at the park, but not that we are home it’s a different story. Now that they are playing on a turf that Jack has long-held dominion
It’s like walking a tight wire at times, without it necessarily feeling so precarious. I’ve long ago accepted that I’m gonna pretty much screw up just a tiny amount more than I’m gonna not screw up in the parenting arena. So long as that’s the case, I can put my head on my pillow at night and drift off to sleep with the knowledge that I’ve accomplished another day of pretty damn good parenting. My kids are alive, fed, healthy, sleeping well, emotionally rather joyous and I’m all the better for it. So, yeah, there are a ton of victories. That doesn’t mean, though, that when there’s a challenge (especially a new one) that I take stock in those victories. No. I tend to forget about them completely and focus on the “how do I fix this quickly” of now. There’s a saying that is pretty common among certain types of people. Some might call them empathic, some might call them co-dependent. Generally, these are people who feel that they are endlessly in need of fixing other people. Making other people happy, sometimes at the expense of their own happiness and comfort. They feel for others. It’s not necessarily a good thing. One consistent slogan that I find myself repeating in regards to Jack and Charlie’s shenanigans is:
“Allow them to have the dignity of their own experience.”
Bullshit, right? Okay. Not always. This is actually, more often than not, what I find myself doing in the never-ending parade of sibling conflicts. I am very careful to not go too far in either direction. Jack is five years old and Charlie is one, they are gonna clunk heads. Sometimes, quite literally. So, I don’t think that it’s my job to stop every little battle that erupts between the two of them. Being able to healthily and even unhealthily resolve conflict is a primary growing experience for every kid. If Mom or Dad just hops in whenever Jack takes a toy from Charlie, or vice versa, then eventually I think they’ll start looking for that same level of comfort in social situations outside the home. Mom and Dad won’t be at the park when a big kid wants the swing. Mom and Dad won’t be in Math class when you can’t remember the quadratic formula. Part of helping to raise my boys is knowing when NOT to be a parent and just let them sort it out for themselves.
So, once in a while Jack makes a mean face about an inch away from Charlie’s nose and Charlie starts to cry. Jack’s line for what his little brother is allowed to do is much more blurred than it used to be, however it’s clearly still there. The amount of toys that Charlie is “allowed” to play with has gotten larger and some of them even fall into the coveted category. It’s only when Charlie barrels into one of Jack’s story’s already in progress that Jack will have an instantaneous meltdown. Like a news report interrupting your favorite sitcom, Charlie pops into the already established world and starts throwing wooden train tracks and Hot Wheels.
Not to be outdone, Charlie certainly has his moments of deliberate offensive strategy. Every now and then, Charlie will walk right up to Jack and, totally uninitiated, grab a handful of his hair and pull with a “YAAAP!” toddler yell. I have to do my best to control my laugh when Charlie’s face goes from joyful smile to vengeful furrowed brow after Jack has taken back a toy that Charlie thought he had liberated. In the sidelines, I have my own personal line of when to jump in and, yes, perhaps sometimes I do jump in too early and the scale gets unfairly tipped. I stop Charlie from grabbing a train and Jack maybe thinks that I’ll always stop him from doing that, so there’s no need to realize that he needs to accept that his brother is small and will grab his trains. I’d rather jump in early than too late. Though, honestly, there doesn’t seem to much risk of anything horrible happening. In all of this semi-controlled and not controlled chaos, there is the other side of the coin. That they are brothers and are essentially forced into a bitter friendship. More often than not though, it’s not bitter at all. It’s actually quite sweet.
Both of these guys are absolutely crazy about one another. It’s almost sort of a shame that Jack is at a height of selfishness so that his unconditional love for his little brother goes unnoticed mostly. Also regrettable is that Charlie is in at 15 month old state of perpetual non-cognitive ignorance and therefore totally unaware of the adoration he has for Jack. I feel as though I’ve got on a special pair of glasses that allows me to glimpse something that the two cannot see. Jack tells other kids to leave his brother alone if they push him. Whenever some one fawns over Charlie Jack makes sure that they know his name and that he is his baby brother. I see Charlie attempting to mime his brother in all of this burgeoning actions. When Jack is not around, Charlie has free-run of the Thomas the Tank Engine Table and makes full use of it. He puts his head against the table, close to the engine wheels and makes “Grrrr Grrrrrr” engine noises like his older brother does. He wants to do everything his brother is doing and he smiles so wide and full whenever he sees him after school.
I am lucky enough to have a younger brother myself. I can recall so many fights, but more than that I can recall how my life always felt incomplete when he was not around. Who knows what the future holds and what type of relationship Jack and Charlie will have in the years to come. My hope is that they recognize the brilliance in each other. That they can see through the inevitable bumps in the road that the world will bring to even something as strong as brotherhood. I have faith that they will see past those troubles and see I just consider myself lucky just to watch this all unfold and, once in a while, step in when I think I have a good idea. Other than that though, I’ll let these two sort things out among themselves for a while.