Springtime Rivalries / by Christina Rosalie

The hills are stained varying shades green now. Above the bay windows, swallows build messy nests. All day they swoop in with bits of things in their beaks, building. The lawn is shaggy with dandelions, like a thousand yellow suns scattered carelessly across the small cosmos of the grass. The boys roll about in it like puppies. Sprout delights in sticking each furry yellow blossom in his mouth and making silly faces. Bean asks for dandelion necklaces and drops handfuls of crumpled flowers at my feet. I kneel, looking for four-leaf clovers, and within seconds the boys are there tumbling into me, their bare feet stained green.

Spring feels like a thing for sure, but then T. checks the weather and discovers SNOW in the forecast.

“What? Come ON!” he says emphatically from his office.

From his location crouched at T.’s office door where he’s repairing the Lego pirate ship he’s constructed Bean says: “You don’t need to be so agitated, Daddy.”

I cannot THINK of the last time I used the word agitated.

But it’s such a good word, isn’t it? And him using it is a perfect snapshot where Bean is at now: five years old, suddenly mischievous, and entirely a boy who lives in the world in his head. He loves words like I do. And stories. We tell them all the way to school every day. Cliffhangers make him howl in reproach….and of course I love to end the story just at the juiciest part, to be picked up the next day.

My favorite time with him lately has been first thing in the morning when he comes into our room when T. is in the shower, and Sprout is still asleep, and I’m in bed still, dreams fluttering against my still-closed eyes like light-drunk moths.

“Hi Mommy,” he’ll say, scooting in beside me. Then we rearrange our arms and legs just so, like a set of nesting bowls, so that I’m tucked entirely around him, my nose wedged into his cheek. He smells like sun and vanilla and sleep. His own sweet little boy fragrance that I know I’ll crave when he’s tall and lanky with pit stains and peach fuzz on his cheeks. But the real reason I love this time in particular is because he’s still sleepy and his busy little mind hasn’t kicked into overdrive yet (which is his modus operandi the rest of the day: “why? why? what? why? how?”) and he’s so tender then, and small. The rest of the time, well, there is a certain point—that starts at about age of three, maybe—where personality takes over, and personal stature no longer aptly describes the person that a child is. He might be small still, but he fills up a room.

And speaking of, can we about sibling rivalry, a wee bit?

Bean and Sprout are exactly four years apart, and while this works well for me (in the sense that I would have entirely lost the contents of my mind all over my life like a bag full of spilled raisins had I had them closer together) it creates a particular dynamic between the two of them, that is interesting, at the very least. Basically: Bean is either annoyed by Sprout’s endless curiosity and desire to touch and hold (read: destroy) anything Bean is constructing... or he is TRYING to annoy Sprout by grabbing him by taking things away from him, pouncing on him, or otherwise inhibiting Sprout's stalwart and determined attempts to go ANYWHERE or do ANYTHING unimpeded.

Truly. I expected competition. I am the middle sister. I am familiar with competition. But boys. They’re just so different. They’re not about head games. They’re about TACKLING and taking things and needling.

Lately it has gotten worse. Sprout has become his own darling remarkable little self of late, and this new development in his personality has somehow dramatically upped the annoying behaviors towards him from Bean. Which is not to say I don’t get it—because I do. Bean was an only for four years, and now suddenly he’s having to share the spotlight with a little PERSON who is utterly hilarious (his one goal all the time is to make us laugh) and ridiculously cute (he discovered TWIRLING today! A twirling baby is pretty much the cutest thing EVER) to compete with.

The thing is, I’m never quite sure what to DO in response to Bean’s little needling behaviors. Sometimes he’s flat out mean: he’ll squeeze Sprout’s hand hard, or intentionally drive a toy over his foot, and when we catch him he’s remorseful, but not really so very much. And it irks me. Especially because Sprout is just such a love. All he wants is to be next to his brother, and he’s so utterly trusting and playful.

What do you do? Ignore the tussles. Time outs? What? Given that they’re four years apart, Sprout can’t really have consequences even though sometimes that would be the logical thing—at least in Bean’s head. And saying “sorry” isn’t really an action of apology.

I’d love to hear your experiences with sibling rivalry, and about any ways you've found to parent around or through this gracefully.