Like most of the country, we’re self-quarantining — staying in to help flatten the curve and protect the most vulnerable among us. My children aren’t going to school and they aren’t seeing friends. I expected them to want to text and FaceTime their friends all day, to do anything to help them remember the life that existed outside the four walls of our home. They do. But infrequently.
Instead, they are inseparable. Watching TV together, playing together. And arguing. So frequently and so loudly.
There are only so many hours of watching Netflix that happen before a fight breaks out between my kids over what show to watch next. And only so many minutes of building LEGOs before they start bickering over who gets to place a random piece in a random space. And only so many seconds after they both wake up before they start yelling at each other about who gets to sit where on the couch.
A writer for the New York Times approached a bouncer, a hockey referee, a cop, a kindergarten teacher, and a therapist for ideas to handle the arguing between her children. The ideas ranged from let them fight or de-escalate the situation using communication or removing one of the arguing parties. Ultimately, I’m not sure whether there’s a way to stop the endless sibling squabbles here—not while it feels as if I’m negotiating a hostage situation with respect to who holds the remote today.
Early on during our self-quarantine days, I tried to referee the arguments—could they both really care that much about which pillow they used on the couch? (Yes, the answer is absolutely yes, apparently, and how dare I question the importance of that exact pillow that looks so much like every other pillow.) Weeks into self-quarantine, the rule has become that as long as there’s no physical violence, the argument can go on until it runs out of steam. I’m mostly immune to the shouts and they seem to need an outlet to get some of those big feelings out—so win-win.
At first I worried (to be honest, I still do) that they seemed to only be interacting with each other. Until I realized this isn’t the first time they’ve found a safe space in each other.
When my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer, our world was upended. Our days revolved around his symptoms and treatments, and we were isolated, not by choice or necessity, but by circumstance. As the disease stole him, in mind before body, and as I straddled the role of caretaker and mother, my kids lost points of stability and support.
Their friends couldn’t understand the extent of the heartache they were living at home, and even if they could, my kids didn’t have the words to even begin to explain the experience.
They began to sit close together when they watched TV. And when the stress in the house began to rise, they’d disappear to the playroom for hours and make up incredible fantasy worlds. And when my son felt shy, my daughter began to speak up for him. And when my daughter felt afraid, my son began to stand protective for his sister. As their world was falling apart, they became each other’s support and stability and lifeline to normal. They grew closer to each other as a result. Their sibling bond strengthened.
In the months after my husband died, after the worst of the grief receded, the strength of that bond remained intact, but the brightness of it began to fade. Friendships often overshadowed that bond, which isn’t unexpected as kids get older and my daughter creeps ever closer to adolescence. School and after-school activities cast long shadows and dimmed the gleam of their bond. They were still close—their shared grief and that feeling of being different from their friends lurking underneath the static of every busy day—but they didn’t need to be each other’s lifeline. Because it wasn’t necessary; lifelines to normal abounded.
But their world is once again upended, a place full of uncertainty for them. We are again isolated. This time, their father is gone (in mind and body, but I like to think not in spirit) and I am too often lost to the stress of solo parenting during a pandemic. They have again turned toward each other.
When they’re not fighting, my daughter will bring my son a snack when she gets herself one without him asking. Out for a walk, my son will pick my daughter a dandelion and hand it to her as if it was no big deal. They’ll put their heads together and scheme and plan and giggle in a way that feels so very familiar.
These days quarantined at home are long. The fighting is endless and exhausting. But they have once again found refuge in each other, and in the one thing in their lives that has always remained constant–their bond. Despite the arguing, they are again each other’s lifelines to normal.
There might be no way to stop the arguing; it’s inherently a part of the sibling relationship. But even though the arguments are loud and frequent, I’m reminding myself that it’s the moments between the arguing that matter. Because those moments prove that no matter where their story takes them, or how often their world is upended, they will always have each other—even if they never figure out how to share that pillow. And that’s an invaluable truth.