Sibling rivalry: it’s all about building character

2011-11-04 00:00

I FEEL sorry for those who have never had the pleasure or pain of growing up with a sibling — real or adopted. They teach you valuable life skills.

A few times a day I hear the ear-splitting shrieks from my daughter: “Mom, Mom.” I should react with urgency, but these days I sigh and yell down the passage with somewhat less enthusiasm: “What now?”

It seems that her older brother is testing a new karate manoeuvre or is taking out her choice of DVD and replacing it with his, a catastrophe of note. I know from experience that if I do intervene, brother will appear angelic and say: “But she wanted to learn karate, or she likes this movie.”

What children do not know is that parents (especially mothers) have a built-in lie detector. One lip twitch or glance in the wrong direction and we know the truth of the matter. We don’t need a jury or a dose of truth serum.

I have also learnt that playing vocal boxing with a teenager is like pushing pins into your own eyes — an extremely painful experience. Teenage boys think they are clever. While their vocabulary is limited, their energy is not.

I have learnt that one must go straight for the jugular  — in this case — the cellphone confiscation. It is much more effective. As tempting as it is to rip their ears off, the useless instruments that they are, the cellphone ban is one way to get those useless pieces of flesh to work once again, if only temporarily.

What is more irritating than the back-chatting teenage boy is the quivery-lipped young sister who loves to play victim.

Pep talks and instructions on how to deliver crotch kicks to bullying brothers have sailed over her head. She much prefers to gloat while her brother gets the punishment.

This is all so déjà vu. I recall in my last life, my brother plotting his evil tricks with military precision.

I was quite a soapie addict. I would race to finish my homework before the 4 pm soapie would start. But suddenly the television had a mind of its own, the channels started jumping. I was confused, punching the buttons. Until I heard a maniacal fit of laughter down the passage. Aha! My brother had the remote and was switching the channels knowing it would drive me insane.

Enraged, I rushed to find a weapon to mete out punishment. My eyes spotted the sjambok on the door. I raced after him and he darted around waving the remote aloft. “Na, na, na.”

I swung the sjambok menacingly. “I’ll kill you!” Then the tip of the whip hit my mother’s glass lampshades and they came crashing down.

The mood was broken and he said: “Ooh, you’re in big trouble.” Of course my attempt to blame him was ignored. My parents never understood the justice system. Our physical fights became tactical, and involved much plotting and strategy.

I never did understand those children who said they liked their brothers and sisters — all very odd. Of course, eventually we grew up and stopped fighting. My children don’t always fight. There are occasionally times when they are oddly co-operative, usually that means one of them has co-opted the other onto his or her side. The co-operative party has been promised a chocolate or a chance to get out of chores.

I am told that only children are likely to get more attention from their parents and will be much more creative and have higher IQs. I am sure this is true. The time I wasted plotting revenge on my brother, I could have studied and memorised the whole Encyclopedia Britannica. I blame him.

This sibling rivalry runs deep in our veins. My mother’s brother used to shoot at her boyfriends with his pellet gun … for fun. My mother relates the time this brother decided to run away from home. He packed six oranges in a knapsack and set off down the road after a run-in with my gran — the tyrant. My mother wept and my grandmother solemnly shook his hand and wished him luck.

At dinner time there was a rustle in the bushes under the window and my grandmother said in a loud voice: “Oh dear, I made too much food, who is going to eat it?”

“I will!” said her son’s voice from the beneath the window.

Recently, my daughter was going to be away on tour and my son plopped down next to me and said: “Oh Mom, what am I going to do? It’s going to be so boring. I’ll have no one to tease.” Well, at least someone would be having fun.

• Read more of my columns on www.trishbeavers.blogspot.com

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