Someone has recently produced a book advising parents on how to cope with sibling rivalry. Whenever I see something like that, I castigate myself for not having thought of it first. The only thing is that, had I thought of it first, I would have dismissed the idea as being nothing more than a statement of the bleeding obvious. Clearly I am an idiot and need some intensive lessons in obtaining money for old rope.
But back to the point: I consider myself something of an expert on the topic of sibling rivalry as I have a brother who is some 5 years younger than me and it took until after I had left home in my late teens for us to find that we had anything in common. In fact, he was a painful little git for much of our childhood (and I’m sure he would say the same of me). For example – he and I attended schools that were next door to each other. When I was in the Lower Sixth, I had a boyfriend at the boys’ school whose name was Reg (it wasn’t his fault). He used to wait for me in the square outside school every day at 4 o’clock and we would walk hand in hand to the bus station together – all together now, aaah! My darling brother and several of his equally delightful mates formed themselves into a gang which they called “The Regiment” (geddit?) and made it their business to follow us all the way through town shrieking and whooping and making 12 year old-type comments.
When it came to having a family of my own, I remembered the bad timing of the 5 year age gap and was determined to have my kids closer together, assuring myself that they would then grow up to be the best of friends. Hah! Although there is a mere two and a half year gap between my offspring, they are at daggers drawn much of the time. Admittedly, they are getting better as they mature but, in the early years, I was required to judge some situations that would have had Henry Kissinger throwing in the towel.
I worked hard at strategies to enable them to live together harmoniously but to little effect. The Shah and I instituted sanctions for bad behaviour and rewards for good but, with the stamina of youth, they simply wore us down with their constant warfare. TS was inclined at one stage to call his sister “stupid”. It’s a word I dislike and one that (understandably) upset her – which, of course, made him use it all the more. So, the word was banned completely in our house. Then, instead of “stupid”, he began to call her “boopid” – well, it’s not “stupid” is it? But the meaning still comes through loud and clear. He developed a range of unpleasant nicknames, some of which (like ‘the Rat’) still come out on occasion today. She, being younger and less able to fight with the same level of eloquence, responded with physical violence – he still bears the scars of some of the times she dug her nails into him hard enough to draw blood.
In the end, once she reached the age of 8 or so, I advised her to keep a diary of all the insults and wrongdoings in the hope that a) it would help me to determine what was really going on; b) it would give her something to do other than retaliate and c) it would shame her sibling into reining it in a bit. She did this religiously for a while, then it was abandoned, time passed and they learned to negotiate around each other without internecine warfare on a daily basis.
Somehow, this little book has survived two house moves and came to light again the other day. Oh the memories it brought back! I feel, in the interests of solidarity with other pressurised mothers out there, that I should share some of its contents with you:-
15th February Today, my brother has called me these names and done these to me:-
Gay x 98
Blub McNub (when I cried)
Poked me round the waist x 2
Coughed on me x 7
You’ve got a funny nose
You live in a ‘fat’ched cottage
You are looking a bit ‘fatty-gay’ (meant to be the French fatigue)
Idiot x 2
Gay x 19
Lez x 2
Attempted punch x 2 (I dread to think what she did to stop him)
Threw a jumper in my face
Poked me in both cheeks
Coughed on my food x 4
You’ve got fat wrists (whaat?)
Threw paper at me
Attempted jab with umbrella x 14
Called me rat-a-tat-tat x 22
Hit me with a shopping bag
Covered my face with a coat
Called me rat x 25
Flicked me x 16
Said ‘this is you’ and made a double chin
Farted in my face x 3
I must be a really bad mother because it makes me laugh and I find it quite inventive (fatty-gay? c'mon!) Then I realised that he was playing up to her efforts to record his peccadilloes by giving her more ammunition than she could possibly handle. So, for example, when we see that he called her ‘Gay’ 98 times, it means that he sat there going 'gaygaygaygaygaygaygaygaygaygay...’ and she busily counted them! Well, I suppose it stopped them trying to kill each other.
Happily, the diary peters out after a few days and then they probably just reverted to open conflict. Strangely, I seem to have blanked it from my memory.
So it just goes to prove that there is nothing quite like brotherly love and this is, indeed, nothing like Brother Lee Love.
And if you remember him, you are officially old!