Put my kids together in the family van and you can be sure of one thing: there will be fighting.
It starts with who gets to sit where and continues endlessly with laments about who kicked who, who said a rude word and how unjust life is, given that one kid has a book or pencil or toy or game that another does not.
“Be nice!” my three-year-old will yell from her car seat, echoing the phrases she often hears from her mother’s mouth in these noisy, argumentative situations.
The words fall on deaf ears and the fighting continues. Sometimes I’m able to block it out completely, but usually I reach a breaking point, at which time I threaten loudly, in what I hope is a fear-inducing voice, that someone will need to walk home if I don’t get silence.
The fighting gets me thinking, though. Will they argue like this when I’m six feet under?
My sister and I tore our family life into chaos with our bickering as children, and no reasoning or trips to counsellors could get us to change our behaviour. Our relationship showed no growth until we ourselves grew up, at which point we finally realized we had more in common than the differences that had seemed to separate us. Our deepening friendship has been a source of solace in times both good and bad, but I could never have anticipated it would be so in our teenage years, when we fostered an intense dislike for one another, spitting sharp exchanges devoid of love or concern.
I suspect the same will happen for my four kids, and I hope that one day, when they’re adults, they’ll meet for family brunches, celebrate Passover seders together and watch each other’s children grow with love, involvement and understanding. I’ve heard anecdotally that in the absence of their parents, they look after and support each other. In the company of friends and other family members, their behaviour is impeccable, and if you met them yourself, you’d likely comment that they’re well-mannered kids.
But when they’re in the minivan, they reveal their ugliest sides, usually on long car trips when they frazzle their parents’ nerves with slews of insults until the air is tense with animosity and the family outing is all but ruined.
Around me there are plenty of examples of adults whose sibling rivalry failed to subside. Instead, it simmers just below the surface of forced family gatherings, at best a civil tolerance defined by silence and insincerity, and at worst a refusal to have any contact whatsoever.
“Blood is thicker than water,” my parents used to tell my sister and me. “One day we’ll be gone, and all you’ll have will be each other.”
I had no conception, back then, that their words would be true.
I’m grateful for my sister’s support today and can only hope my kids will learn to trust and rely on each other as she and I do now.
Because anything else boils down to petty jealousy, senseless, unresolved conflict and the banality of sheer ego and pride. And life’s just too short to give those sentiments free rein.