This week is preparation week: It’s Christmas time, and that means travel. On the one hand, I’m elated about going home and seeing my family. I only get to see them twice a year. On the other hand, I’m not excited about seeing my in-laws.
I know that there aren’t a lot of people who like their in-laws. I also know that I chose my husband and, in essence, I chose my in-laws. But hear me out: My husband is a wonderful metropolitan intellectual (sometimes eccentric) man who is sophisticated and smart and amazing. His parents are none of these things. They were raised in the mid-west in the 50’s, moved to the east coast and brought all of their non-sophistication with them. They managed to raise two boys who are exemplary (though I reserve judgement on my brother-in-law who has flaws that we will examine during another time). Unfortunately, as my in-laws have grown older (they are now in the 60’s), they’ve only grown to become more grumpy and set in their ways. There is not an ounce of wisdom between them.
I know, you are like “who cares?” Fine. Between the two brothers, my in-laws have 3 grandchildren and another on the way. For all four conceptions, my in-laws (especially my mother-in-law) have treated the news with contempt. Even though all of us are married, educated, have jobs, and are stable people. They were so monstrous about my second pregnancy (with Ursa Minor) specifically, that I have pretty much reduced our relationship to respectful tolerance.
So yeah. That’s my Christmas.
But this post is about more than that. This post is about the beautiful and delicate relationship between siblings, specifically, brothers. And I have to bring up my stupid in-laws because they are paramount to my musings today.
My husband and his brother absolutely hated each other while they were children and teenagers. This is, mostly, because my in-laws blatantly plaid favorites: favoring my husband (the oldest, quietest, and more conservative of the two) over his little brother (just as smart, though gregarious). Little Brother lived in his brother’s shadow forever, and was compared to his older brother openly and constantly. This led to a lot of acting-out behaviors during Little Brother’s teenage and college years, and now, in his adult-life, Little Brother constantly seeks to one-up on husband in everything. (Little Brother is 3 years younger than we are. But when we got married, he was married a year later. We got pregnant with Ursa Major, they got pregnant four months later. We got pregnant the second time, now they are pregnant with their second. I could make this list ten miles long.) There is a lot of the dysfunction going on up in here, and it often rears its ugly head early when we are all together, because inevitably one or both of my in-laws says something judgmental and/or stupid, and it makes the rest of our visits tense.
and this is all because of favoritism. I don’t know the origins and I don’t care to know. All I see is the outcome, and it bothers me on so many levels. What’s worse is the denial that seems to ooze from my in-laws. They don’t see it or they don’t care. Either way, they’ll never defuse the situation.
Flash forward to 2011. Suddenly, we are all the parents of beautiful boys. We have two, they have one and another on the way. but during the first months of Ursa Major’s life, all my in-laws could do was talk about what a great baby Husband was, and how Ursa Major was gearing up to be the same. Seven months later, my nephew, Little Wolf was born, and suddenly, he’s a “challenging” baby, he “can’t stop crying” they always have something to say about his temperament. They call him “Fenris” and get him a snarling wolf hat from Old Navy as a joke-but-not-really-a-joke. We ask them to babysit Ursa Major while we are on a visit, I walk back in the house because I forgot my cellphone, and I hear my Father-in-law say “Oh! Now we get some time with our favorite grandson!” and I told them very explicitly not to call him that.
There have been stories about parents admitting that they have a favorite child, and in our asshole culture, there are some parents who are like “yeah! I do! And I’m proud of that!” I think that’s awful. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I knew that my parents favored me over my sister or vice versa. My sister, cousin and I have a running joke with my grandmother that we are each her “favorite” granddaughter. We say it all the time in front of her and among ourselves. It’s been a longstanding joke that has never been and will never besubstantiated by my grandmother. She has no favorite. She loves each of us equally. We know that, and it makes our relationship with her that much better and stronger. Same too with our parents. My sister and I are equally loved and are secure in that love: Our relationship is very close and strong. The development of our relationship took years of negotiating share space, interests, parents, friends, soda, ice cream, popcorn, stuff. We never shared boyfriends, thank God, but we shared a room for a time (we asked for it. I had a fear of the dark. I’m not ashamed.), we shared a sports team, we even shared hair styles! Leaving to go to college hurt. Living in different cities now hurts. I can’t imagine my world without my little sister.
And this leads me to my boys.
My boys are beautiful and strong and smart as all hell. They are young, yes, but I can already tell. When I was pregnant with Ursa Minor, the only thing I could think about was how Ursa Major was going to behave. Was he going to rebel? Regress? Become possessive of me? You know what he did when we brought Ursa Minor home? The first thing he did was give Ursa Minor a kiss on his 3-day-old forehead and a hug. Ursa Major was all of 15 months old, and he still did that. It was the sweetest and most wonderful thing I had ever seen. Now that Ursa Minor is crawling, all Ursa Major wants to do is show him around our home, pointing out different things, asking him questions (“Do you want yogurt, [ursa minor]?”) and otherwise being an amazing big brother.
What do I do to keep this delicate and beautiful relationship whole and strong for years and years? How do I prevent it from turning into a toxic competition? First, I commit to never having a favorite. If I do, I’ll keep it to my damn self! There are times when they both drive me crazy for different reasons! I also commit to continually reminding them of these tender moments. When Minor gets on Major’s nerves, I’ll remind him that his brother is the best gift I could possibly give him. I don’t think that there is anything more delicate yet special than the relationship between siblings, let alone brothers.