grumpy about sibling loyalty

Going on 3 or 4 months now, every time I think Nick can’t make me any more bat-shit crazy, he evolves to a whole new level of annoying. Right now he’s clingy, needy, whiny. He’s prone to tantrums. He’s got terrible separation anxiety. He’s incredibly picky about food. He won’t sit still for anything. He wants to caress me with his feet and hands all day long; it’s creepy. He hates sharing my attention. The second Jesse comes out of school, he intercedes before I can even manage a hello hug, running off like a rabbit or grabbing my hand and dragging me around while he screams.

A few days ago as we waited at Jesse’s school pick-up, Nick was better than normal. I hadn’t done or said anything to him that I would regret later. Jesse came out and we had about 3 seconds of peace as I gave her a hug. Next I turned to a fellow mom to say something. Suddenly Nick ran up to me and (oh my gawd) pulled my shirt up, all the way up past my bra. I blurted an obscenity, I remonstrated, I pulled my shirt back down in terror. The usual. Jesse hustled Nick a few paces away to safety as I nattered. I suspect most of the 30 other parents standing around didn’t notice, either because they were dealing with their own kids or because they’re used to Nick and me.

I told Anthony about it during breakfast the next day. I was irritated about something Nick was doing at the table and I started whining about his developing GBD. (I just made that up, generalized behavior disorder. Is that a thing?) Nick sat there fidgeting, listening intently and looking like he felt cornered. I got to the part where he pulled up my shirt, and I described my horror at my bra being exposed. Just then Jesse called out from the living room, in a dismissive tone that said it was no big deal: “It was only an inch of your bra. That’s all I saw.” Anthony burst out laughing while I gesticulated behind Nick’s back to get Anthony to stay serious. I failed. Nick was relieved to be off the guillotine.

A few minutes later Jesse wandered nonchalantly into the kitchen and over to my chair, leaning in on me for a light hug. She finished her thought, looking at me all sweet and innocent-like. “A four year old is an annoying age, an irritating age. You just have to tolerate it.”

Mmmm. I’m not sure I agree with Jesse, but I have to give her proper respect for coming to her brother’s aid on an issue where she can anticipate a lot of angry push-back from me. Siblings should stick together.

My brother Mark tells an apocryphal tale about being lined up with Ted and Eric for spankings when they were little, after Dad discovered one of them had done something really naughty. Dad couldn’t figure out which kid was guilty, so he told my brothers that they’d each get a spank, one after another, until one of them told (I would have been too little to make the line up). Dad had huge, scary spanking hands. Mark remembers it with fresh pride as if it happened yesterday: the brothers never broke. No one tattled, and Dad finally gave up.

It remains an unspoken and (I believe) unbroken code among the four of us. No matter what else goes wrong, even between us, we’re banded together in loyalty, against our parents and the world. We may not have always believed it of each other, but I do think it’s true.

If I knew my dad at all, I know that he would have been impressed and entertained by his loyal boys, but also very grumpy about his total lack of authority. He would have been even more grumpy about spanking them, because it couldn’t have been something he wanted to do. He wasn’t a hitter; he was a grumbler and yeller.

Listening to Jesse as she leaned on me, I thought of Mark’s story and felt the same as Dad must have – a mix of respect and pride, plus a healthy dose of grumpy. All I could do was stare at her and shake my head. She gets outraged at Nick herself. He drives her crazy. So what’s she doing defending him? When did my kids get old enough to gang up on me?

Parenthood fills me with hubris sometimes. I float up on a cloud of ego, buoyant from the lightweight moral advice I blather at my kids. All of that is just empty noise. In the end, they’re apparently learning one of the most important family-value lessons on their own: you have to defend your siblings from your parents, even when you’re defending behavior that really pisses you off. I guess that’s because it’s between you and your brother (or sister), not between him and your mom or dad.

I’m incredibly proud of my kids for starting down this journey of loyalty to each other at such a young age. But I still yelled at Nick and gave him a time out before the morning was done. Thanks to Jesse, I didn’t feel as bad about it as usual. He had her to help him through it.