This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, June 2016 (but the children were playing Forceful Club only yesterday. The battle over kissing the dead-bee continues.They are SUCH WEIRDOS. I blame their father)
My four year old daughter walked into preschool recently singing a charming song her big brother and sister had made up. It was called ‘Killer Vaginas from Outer Space’, and although I got out of there very fast, I expected a stern email all day, because I knew Pudding would perform all the verses. There’s a bit about Venus, something terrible happens to a penis, and basically, the whole thing is a job for Dr Freud.
Thing is, Pudding’s big brother and sister have as much influence on her as I do. They, at four, were pure as snow, raised on nothing but Play School, Angelina Ballerina and a little old-school Narnia for balance. Pudding, on the other hand will recite (unrequested) ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a poo. Perhaps she’ll spew.’ Her literary references range from Zombie Bums from Uranus through to Captain Underpants and the Talking Toilet, and when cornered, she’ll shout ‘My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!’
Pudding has watched her two older siblings hone the art of war, you see. With three kids under ten, the fights in our house can be epic. Hunger Games, Real Housewives, crisis-in-the-Middle East epic. A lot of my parenting time is spent in negotiating squabbles that are both ridiculous and deadly serious.
Take the Forceful Club, for instance, a trampoline game created by the two eldest. The rules are hazy, but two things are clear: it involves violence, and to join the club, all members have to kiss a dead bee. The four year old cried bitter tears about the bee rule, the big two were adamant and I was shoe-horned into one of my more hopeless conversations. ‘Pudding does not have to kiss the bee! Can’t you bend that rule? Well, can’t she just get her face close to the bee? She can blow on the bee! Be reasonable!’
Basically Forceful Club is like Fight Club except the first rule is that you have to talk about it. Endlessly. Other things my children have fought about lately: who was which number on the digital clock, who would get sucked into a black hole first, who owned the dead caterpillar in a container, whose turn it was to wear the comedy teeth, and (this last involved furious shouting) how to pronounce ‘Nuttelex’.
I’ve got brothers and sisters of my own. I remember the intensity of sibling rivalry in childhood and these days I love how we facilitate the magic of cousin-gangs. The parental bond may be our lodestar, the central fact of our lives, but siblings are the first scratching posts on which we figure out how to deal with the weird landscape that is other people. The relationships we have with our brothers and sisters are often the longest and most profound of our whole lifespan – for good, or for bad.
‘Be kind!’ I urge my kids, too fiercely. ‘Speak nicely to each other! We are never, ever rude and mean to each other in this family!’ This is, of course, clearly untrue, probably impossible, and, like so many other aspects of parenting, driven by the ghosts from my own childhood. It’s hugely important to me, this job I have of nurturing that sibling bond. After all, I hope these three people, who I adore so much, will be looking out for each other long after I have gone. Today, the comedy teeth; tomorrow, the inheritance. Good luck, my little loves, enjoy raising each other, and may the Forceful Club be with you.