One of the benefits of growing up with siblings is that you have someone to torture, who abuses you right back, in a safe space where you know you are loved. You learn how to hurt and why you shouldn’t, and you learn how to survive hurt caused by another.
Growing up my baby brother and I were a textbook example. He was infuriating. He would mess up my carefully laid out games, clout me with toys, and pretend I’d smacked him just to get me in trouble. In turn I was a venomous little cow to him. I would tease him mercilessly about everything from his weight to his stammer, throw his toys out of the window, and kick him as he walked past. Looking back I’m thoroughly ashamed of the bad behaviour but I also remember how close we were. How we would play together for hours, have secret sleepovers in each other’s beds, and defend one another passionately against any outsider.
Now, despite living in different countries with completely different lives (he’s a genius scientist working at CERN and living a childfree life of financial security by a vineyard in France, and I’m a mother of three living on an estate attempting to forge a career in the arts) we remain close to this day.
Miss Rose is now growing up with a baby brother, and they have a similar relationship to my brother and I. Even though Z is just five months younger, they are both the best of friends and the worst of enemies. Z will kick over her tower of blocks, Rose will snatch toys from his hands. Rose will shove him away from her Rainbow Dash, Z will throw his Batman at her head. They regularly declare they aren’t friends and never want to play with the other EVER AGAIN.
They are also best of friends. Between disputes they will play with one another for hours. There are currently dinosaurs and My Little Ponies scattered far and wide over the floor whilst they engage in a series of imaginative games that primarily seem to involve tripping up myself and their father, and occasionally screeching ear splitting screams.
They are learning about kids being mean. They are learning that it isn’t nice, and they are learning how to handle it, and all the time knowing they are loved and they are safe.
Learning about the cruel potential of both yourself and other children is really positive, and it will do them well as they embark on their school careers from September. But it doesn’t fully arm them against the cruelty of other children, even if it gives them a fairly solid ground to start from.
Miss Rose came out of school this week with blood on her nose. A little boy had hit her and pushed her down, laughing at her for looking like a boy. Miss Rose has short hair, sometimes very short though currently it’s at the longest it’s been in years (not quite shoulder length) and doesn’t play with dollies. She crashes around with footballs and trains, she wears her Spider-Man boots, and she hates clips and ribbons in her hair. But she also loves tutus, My Little Ponies and nail varnish. Her lack of restriction to the gendered stereotypes I believe are so damaging is something I have celebrated, and something nobody has given her a negative response to. Until now.
When she eventually went into details about what happened, her teacher had given me the basics, she seemed embarrassed. Ashamed. No matter how much she and Z fight and squabble it hasn’t prepared her for a personal attack about who she is.
The little mermaid next door has Jolene style flaming locks of auburn hair, she is also a sister. Her mother told me about a little boy’s efforts to taunt her for being “a ginger”. The little mermaid has a fierce sense of self and, without any hesitation, informed him her hair is red and fabulous. She was having none of it. A combination of the sibling dynamic, her mother’s dedication to making her feel good about her uniqueness, and her own personality has made her too tough to crack. At least when it comes to her looks. This is something I desperately want to emulate for Miss Rose.
Of course, I can’t protect her from everything. I can’t stop other children being bullies, I can’t step in the way of every child’s desire to push her (even though if I was able to stalk her around school and throw my body in front of her every time you can guarantee I would be there). I can’t protect her from life. Kids can be cruel and she is already being exposed to that, and she has years of enduring school children ahead of her.
What I can do is make sure she learns from her sibling dynamic with Z. Make sure I teach her to celebrate the things about her that make her unique. And hope that her home life full of security and love, where she is told she is absolutely perfect the way she is, both inside and out, gives her a solid enough foundation to get through what’s ahead.
Watching Rose and Z playing together can be both incredibly stressful and absolutely endearing. They are learning so much about both themselves and how to interact with others, and I am certain it will stand them both in good stead. We just have to fill in the gaps. Kids can be cruel, but I hope the way we are raising them will give them the inner strength to handle it. And if not I’ll throw my body in her way, because I never want to see my little girl with a bloody nose again.
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Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!