Last night was one of those not-so-proud moments in our family. Biiiiiiiig family blowout that started out over a birthday dinner. Not really ready to completely excavate it at this point, but let’s just say, I eventually dropped an “F” bomb and threatened to get out of the car at a stoplight.
This morning as I was drinking my coffee and scrolling thru Facebook with the feeling of being a crap parent in the pit of my stomach, I happened upon a video of Melinda Gates’ daughter interviewing her. Melinda Gates talked about how she raised her three children WHILE being married to Bill Gates (richest man evah!) and RUNNING the Gates Foundation (saving the WORLD!). Also? Her hair is perfect. Suffice to say, this was not the tonic I needed this morning. Melinda came across as the most reasonable, tolerant and loving mom in the world. Her daughter talked about how she had given such good advice over the years, including encouraging her to “spread her wings”. I found myself wondering if Melinda had ever lost her serene composure (or as a colleague in residency used to call it “having your mask slip”) in the course of her parenting and dropped an F bomb or threatened to get out of the car at a stoplight. Probably not. But I did. And do.
As I held the post-mortem of the blowout with myself this morning (as I am want to do as a mom/psychiatrist, God help me), I realized that the root of the conflict started over a sibling rivalry between my kids. I continued to scroll through Facebook. Turns out that in a fun coincidence, today is National Siblings Day. And in my head, I dropped another F bomb. What a complicated relationship being a sibling is. It starts out with the jealousy a little kid feels when that new baby is born. And if we are truthful, it continues throughout our lives. I see it fester in the families I see in clinic. Decades old rivalries that continue to be played out in my office and beyond. But the stakes get even higher. Properties. Inheritance. Caregiving responsibilities. Who does/did Mom/Dad really love best?
Although my brothers and I get along well and there are no big conflicts, I will admit that at 51 years old, I still feel the rivalry with my sibs at times. My parents live here in Ann Arbor most of the year and are in and out of our house on a daily basis like wacky parents on some sitcom. Head in the door…“Hello!! Anyone here?” My dad buys us dog biscuits, toilet paper and weird cookies he finds at the store. I talk to my mom every day. And yet, when my brothers visit a few times a year, I find myself feeling a titch jealous at times. Not in an overbearing way, but annoying. Yes, you will say, “it is completely natural” (or maybe you will say in a Melinda Gates-like tranquil yoga voice, “Really?” “You are not over that by now?” “Helen. You must really learn to spread your wings”).
And then in the next minute, my mind went to hilarious memory of me and my brothers. The time? The early 70’s. The place? Hershey Medical Center where my Dad was Chair of Psychiatry and my Mom a Professor. As I look back on it, we were off school that day and as working parents, they must not have been able to find child care. So, they brought us to work! We were installed in my Dad’s large “Chair” office suite with paper and crayons and told to be quiet and color for about an hour while my Dad saw a patient in the office next door. Being about 9, 7 and 5, however, it wasn’t long until we found something more fun to do. It involved my Dad’s awesome leather executive chair (the “Chair’s Chair!”). One by one, we took turns spinning each other faster and faster, screaming and laughing like the little hyenas we were. As I recall, my older brother and I had just each disembarked from the thrill ride and were dizzily recovering. My younger brother was anxiously awaiting his turn. Out of nowhere, in swooped my Dad like a bat out of Hades. And before we could react, it happened. As he yelled quietly through gritted teeth as only parents can do (something like “I am seeing a patient and he thinks you are laughing at him!”), my Dad gave me and my older brother quick but effective spanks to our butts (if any Millenials are reading this, spanking was something that parents did in the 70’s. In my family, it didn’t hurt your body, but it sure wounded your pride). The best part of the story is still to come. My younger brother, having not yet boarded “the Chair”, was more equipped to see what was coming and react. As my older brother and I watched clutching our wounded rears, he tucked his little butt under and left my Dad ineffectually chasing him around the table in the office like something out of a cartoon. While my little brother eventually got caught, the memory of him eluding my Dad with his ingenious “tucking” is one of our most priceless childhood memories. In laughing at my Dad losing his composure, we came together that day and forever.
I hope that my kids can remember all of my goofy parenting gaffes (F-bombs, threatening to get out of cars—yes, it has happened more than once, including in Death Valley) and come together as sibs to celebrate our family. Large warts and all.
Happy National Siblings Day!