Mommy, He's TOUCHING Me!

My 17-year-old daughter just made her brother cry. Real, blow-his-nose, tears-dripping-down-his-face crying. And not because she pinched him when I wasn’t looking, nor because she called him some awful name. It was because she wrote him an incredibly sweet, heartfelt letter about how much she loves and appreciates him, and hopes to become a better sister to him than she has been in the past. I know what you’re thinking and no I’m not dreaming.

Ashleigh has returned, from her recent mission trip to Guatemala, a changed young woman. More aware of the blessing her family (and particularly her little brother) is to her.

Once upon a time when Joshua was born, Ashleigh was initially curious, then annoyed with her new brother. Suddenly attention was being diverted from her 2-1/2-year-old cuteness to his adorable baby new-ness. I’d catch her “patting” him in such a way as to make me wonder whether she was truly patting him in love, or smacking him in irritation.

There was a brief smooth patch in their relationship when Joshua reached his toddler years. During that window of time, Ashleigh could pretty much get her little brother to do anything in exchange for the honor of playing with her, and having her undivided attention. Joshua adored (and still does) his big sister. Dress him up like a girl. Paint his toenails. Order him around. He was a willing accessory in her games of make believe.

I looked on smugly, certain they were going to be the rare exception and actually escape the whole sibling rivalry thing altogether. (Hark, dost thou hear the evil laughter in the background here?) Then…

KA-BLAM! It hit.

When they reached about the ages of 6 and 4, it seemed like they quarreled over every little thing. Who got to brush their teeth first, who got to hug the dog first in the morning, who got the “good” chair. And I absolutely could not stand it when they’d start fighting. I know the much-quoted parental advice on sibling rivalry is to “just let them work it out.” But I had a really hard time with that—especially when it came to name calling. No “S” words (“stupid”) or “D” words (“dumb”) on my watch!

As soon as I heard an unkind word or the start of a fight, I was in their faces, often forcing them to play the Compliment Game where I’d immediately sit them down and have them give three compliments to each other. The compliments had to be about qualities they genuinely admired in each other, and could not be something superficial like “I like your shirt.” After the first couple of times, this “GAME” drove them nuts.

“No, puhleeeze mama! Not compliments again!”

Other times I would shriek in frustration. “Stop it! Be nice to each other. Once daddy and I are gone you will only have each other!”

To be totally fair, their relationship wasn’t completely contentious. They had their occasional good moments. Like when I’d catch Ashleigh reading books to Joshua in the middle of the afternoon. Or when he’d share a last treasured piece of candy with her. But more often than not, if they weren’t busy doing something else, they were annoying each other.

Then, over the next decade, so slowly and so subtly I was hardly aware it was happening, their relationship changed—is changing. Now at 17 and 15, they are evolving into not only siblings, but friends, right before my eyes. And it is so cool!

All it took was a two-week mission trip to Guatemala.
And over ten years.
And nagging parents drilling it into their heads.

Yup. Seventeen years, parental nagging and a two-week mission trip. Cool, eh?


Jill said...

That is a cool story. Glad your daughter's trip made such an impact!

The Daughter said...

Ashleigh loves her mommy very much even though she continues to write out every detail of Ashleigh's personal life for the entire world to behold.