I have two handsome, highly energetic, and vivacious sons. Now ages 6 and 4 years old, M and R (respectively) have been inseparable ever since R made his appearance in February 2010. Born to the same gender and only 20 months apart, they have created a kind of built-in peer and friend environment within our home. It’s a boy-universe of trains, trucks, cars, and airplanes ruled by complex procedures, routines, and play that M and R both shift and navigate. A universe inhabited by them and them alone. Until recently.
Of my two sons, M is a bit more like me-a touch socially awkward and not exactly sure how to make new friends. He’s a witty and charming, but content to play by himself or with R most of the time. R takes after my husband socially; he’s the life of the party and seems to innately know how to connect with new people. These differences were never more evident to me than this past Saturday when we attended a birthday party for one of R’s best friends. It was the standard kid party fare-outdoor play, presents, piñata, cake. It was a great time; however, it was the first time M has seen his brother run around, play, and behave like a 4-year-old boy with other 4-year-old boys. While at the party, I could tell that M was discomfited with the situation. He repeatedly tried to enjoin R in familiar “at home play,” and although R did not ignore him, he was clearly more interested in running with his buddies and engaging in their familiar customs of pre-school chase and play. M did his best to insert himself into their routines, but it was to no avail. At the end of the party, as we said our good-byes and thank yous, M was clearly jealous as R hugged his buddy with reckless abandon and clear affection. It wasn’t until the day after the birthday party that M could hold back his upset no longer, confessing amid tears after a minor brotherly scuff-up that he thought R was “not my best friend anymore” and asking “why didn’t R play with me? I’m his friend!” I had no real answer for him.
*pause for a Mommy Sob*
I assured M that he and R would always be brothers and no friend could change that. I tried to tell him that R was just excited to see his school friends and that brotherly friendship is different from school friendship, but it was unfamiliar ground for me. My own sibling and I are, and always have been, estranged. My brother and I have too many years between us to have been close growing up, and after we both reached adulthood, there were just too many differences, too many real fights, and too much in the past to bridge our gap. Thus, I really don’t know much about how siblings should play. Or how they should bond. Or how a sibling relationship evolves as the siblings grow up and branch off to their own friends, their own interests, and their own lives. Are you supposed to grow apart? It doesn’t seem that way from what I observe of my IRL and FB friends and their siblings. But what do I know about this?
I spent most of Sunday thinking about the bond between M and R and wondering if this was the beginning of the next stage in their relationship: Brothers Who Have Separate Friends. How would I help them navigate this? It has always been my most sincere hope that my children remain close for their whole lives, but I can only encourage that, not control it. I was at a loss. As Sunday rolled into Monday, we went shopping for some home improvement items, one being a pull cord extension chain so the kids can turn their overhead lights on and off without affecting the ceiling fans. Apparently, such an item is only available in 1 foot or 12 foot lengths, which is so helpful (not). I purchased the 12-foot length and figured I would have extra if I needed it. After installing the required lengths in each room, there was about 6 feet of cord left. I set it on the dresser in M’s room, and went off to put away the sharp tools. When I returned to retrieve the cord, I stood in M’s doorway and watched he and R each wrap one end of the cord around their wrists until they were connected, wrist-to-wrist–a visible representation of their invisible bond. “This way we’ll always be friends!” R exclaimed, pointing at the chain. “And we’ll be brothers, too!” said M.
I hope so, boys. I hope so.