The question took me aback, because it's not a problem we have around here anymore. But we did, at one time.
My mother is an only child. She grew up in a household with live-in help, which she did not enjoy. She always wanted siblings. What she got instead was grandmothers and live-in help. Her family's home had three bedrooms for family (my grandparents, my mother and my French great-grandmother, GrandMere) and two bedrooms for staff. The house had a beautiful, graceful, curving staircase with a white, wrought-iron banister, and a hidden back staircase for the help. It had gorgous gardens and an orchard, maintained by the help. When my great-grandmother moved in with my mother's family after she was widowed, she brought her own maid to live with her. I am not kidding.
The three of us kids thought this was hilarious, as much as we thought the need to have a chauffeur because my grandmother was afraid to drive (due to her one attempt at driving leading to a minor accident) was funny. We could hardly fathom the stories my mother told of insisting on being let out of the car a block or so from school, so as not to be observed getting out of the chauffeur-driven Big Car. Funnier still were the stories of my grandparents and other great-grandmother (Granny) taking their live-in help with them to their summer beach cottage - and making the help live in tents. Who needs help at a cottage? Who makes them camp out in tents? Who does that? It was beyond our experience, because we grew up in a much simpler lifestyle. Later in life, we saw more of the world and understood it from my grandparents' point of view (but it is still sort of funny, to me).
|Debbie, me & Jim|
The point of all of the above is that my mother thought that her three children were much more fortunate than she had been as a child, because we had each other. No matter how much we irritated one another, my brother, sister and I were always reminded that we were terribly lucky just to have siblings, and that we needed to get along with and love each other. It didn't stop us from squabbling and having our differences, even as we grew older, but it made a deep impression on me. I never intended to have an "only child."
|David & Katie|
|David & Katie in our old house|
He did a fair amount of bossing her, and as they grew, I would encourage her to stand up to him (I am the youngest of three, after all), which she did, in her own way. They had ingenious ways of negotiating deals ("I'll play this much Harry Potter with you if you'll play that many hours of Playmobil with me"). For the most part, though, they preferred one another's company to that of any other playmate. It made me very happy indeed.
|Katie & David on the front lawn|
|David & Katie in Palm Desert|
When my blog friend wrote her post and her open question, I wondered how (or whether) to answer it. I disliked the sibling fighting, and I knew that deep-down, our children loved each other in spite of it. Sometimes they were simply bored, or had an excess of energy. Underneath the squabbling, I could see their mutual enjoyment and affection, and I saw it in action after Katie's cancer diagnosis. David moved his entire life to Seattle in order grant her wish and to support her. He was by her side every single day. When she was dying, she worried about him walking past her room, and finding it empty, and she told him so. He was with her when she died. He is the best brother he could possibly be.
I only wish they could still do it.
By now, who knows what their dynamic would be? David is away at university most of the year, and Katie would be a junior in high school. Perhaps most disagreements would be replaced by shared confidences, friends and happiness to be together when they could. Or perhaps they would have grown in different directions. We will never know.
I didn't comment on my friend's blog posting, because my comment would have been longer than her post. I also didn't want to overshadow her simple, perfectly natural parenting question with a tragic, dramatic answer. I don't want to be one who introduces the subject of cancer, dying and death just by showing up! Yet it is part of my life, and it shaped my response, even if that response was only in my head. So I wrote it here, instead.
By the way, I even hesitated to post this here, because I have noticed that some people feel that they have to compare their problems to our bereavement. No matter what their problem is, after discussing it with me, some will add, "Of course, this is nothing compared to what you have been through." I want you to know that I don't evaluate life that way. When you tell me about your problems, I do not say in my heart, "She has a hangnail, but my daughter died; my problem is bigger than hers."
Cancer and Katie's death are not the first, greatest, or only things on my mind; they are a part of my life, but not the biggest part. I do write about them a fair amount, because writing is a healthy outlet, and it keeps me from talking about them too much. Cancer and Katie's death do inform my values. However, I have a normal household with bills, pets, dirt, responsibilities, chores, concerns, joys and irritations, just like anyone else. My life and interests are diverse. I exercise; I read about all kinds of things and enjoy art, creativity, music, socializing, great stories and trivia, too.
Sometimes I do think that much is made of small things in this life, particularly by the news media and entertainment industry, but I make much of small things, too, occasionally - so, if you tell me your hardships, please do not assume that I am sitting in judgment of you or comparing your difficulties to mine. That will handicap our friendship. My heart and my capacity for caring are bigger than that.