|Unschooling Blog Carnival logo - so pretty!|
This post was written for the Unschooling Blog Carnival
|Annalise gets a helping hand - or two- from an invisible brother.|
Growing up, I loved my siblings - and I hated them. The constant volatility and frequent parental outbursts of frustrated and furious energy nearly guaranteed that we would respond to each other in similarly reactive ways. The fact that we would be punished, often violently, and nearly always reactively, for those incidents only complicated the issue, and guaranteed that our individual needs to assert ourselves or impose our will upon each other would continue and grow both more common and uglier in nature, as we grew.
|New Year's Day 2010|
Since there were four children, split between genders, and three bedrooms in our home, no one had their own room. That resulted in there being no physical place in our home or yard that was mine and inviolable. As far as the shared spaces that made up our home - none of us children had the freedom to decide the details that defined those spaces - not even those we slept in. For instance, my sister preferred purple, and I adore blue. Our bedroom walls were pink, our curtains frilly and flowered. There was white wooden furniture, bedding to match the curtains, and a red carpet that always distressed me (My aversion for red is long-standing and not something I really understand. The color is simply off-putting, for me).
All of these things in our room were chosen, not by us, but by our mother - to fit her image of what a girl's room should be. Her reasons had to do with love, because she herself had never had a room filled with new and pretty things. She intended to give us (and by extension, perhaps, the little love-starved girl she had been) her dream...but it wasn't my dream, in those colors, and so I always felt a little like a stranger there, borrowing the space from my mother's fantasy room.
The result was that there was no space that felt safe and embracing, except those which I could create through my own actions These were almost exclusively interior spaces, held in my own mind, where I had some degree of control.
When I was smaller, I discovered reading, and writing, and being in the tub as long as I could possibly mange, imagining and narrating stories in my head. Alone in the tub, or lost in the pages of a book, or in my own mind, there was at least the illusion of distance and safety from the roiling emotions all around me.
When I got a little older, I discovered chores my siblings didn't want to do, and made it my habit to do some of these. Sitting on the ground, pulling dandelions or weeding vegetables, raking, caring for our pets....I had these, and books, and the stories in my head. I began to be allowed to do dishes alone, and I enjoyed that time, my back turned to the energy of the rest of the family, when I needed space - looking out the kitchen window gave me, once again, a degree of space and safety.
In my teens, I discovered the joys of horseback riding, long walks, headphones and my Walkman, and the forbidden delights of exploring my burgeoning sexuality through writing and dreaming......I worked, and had after school activities my siblings didn't share, and, when I graduated, I chose a college two states away.....
|Happy Siblings, January 2012|
It seems that a tremendous amount of my energy, in childhood, was spent protecting my soul, my body, my ego, my possessions, and even the space around myself from invasion by outside forces - and looming large in the realm of threats were my three siblings.
I don't mean to say that it was intentional, on any of our parts, nor that I was never invading the invisible turf lines my siblings each held. That much was inevitable, given the circumstances of our lives.
|Hangin' out on the couch!|
I mean to say that we lived far more often in a state of war, or at least, of potential battle, than we did in a state of harmony. We all tended to keep our armor on and our weapons raised as we patrolled what we viewed as our personal territory. Grudges might be held for days or months - our mother supplied excellent examples of how to hang on to perceived slights. We fought, often hand-to-hand and down-and-dirty, to defend what was ours: toys, games, space, attention, place in the heirarchy of family...
I remember a LOT of fighting. In many cases, I remember what the fight was about. I always remember how vital it was that I win, that I make my case, that I prove the other wrong, that I deflect and defeat any attacks.
I felt, then, like I had to fight to survive, and that feeling seemed to be backed up by the constant rivalries actively promoted by our parents.
I thought, growing up, that every family was like this. Certainly, it seemed to be the way most siblings on TV were portrayed, and it was the way most of the families I knew seemed to act, too.
|Hirschornn Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC 2009 - ages 7and 4.|
|On the Washington, DC Metro train. The car was empty; they could have sat anywhere. This is where they chose.|
For many years, I thought there was something wrong with me, for being so deeply troubled by it. Certainly, if this was normal and right, and still, it tore me to shreds inside, I was far too sensitive....
|Sibling comfort on a very hot day at the National Zoo.|
Now, many years further in my life's journey, I know things I did not know then about the damage abuse can cause, and how invisible and insidious that damage can be, seen from within a broken dynamic. I know how easily it passes from generation to generation, and the supreme effort required in coming from that place to a place of treating children with peace, kindness, and respect. I know why the fighting never felt normal or natural to me, now......
It didn't feel "right", because, in a healthy family dynamic, it wouldn't be.
|Christmas morning love!|
I know, too, why two of my three siblings and I are not on speaking terms. It's because, for them, the rivalry hasn't ended - ever. They are locked into it, and the pattern is so deep, they may not even see that the rivalry only exists, now, in their own perception of things.
Anything I say or do that they interpret to be a slur against them will be met with brutal retaliation. They learned the lessons we lived by then well, but have not adapted to a world where those lessons are no longer useful. Maybe, they have a worldview that tells them that trust and acceptance of others isn't useful.
Unfortunately, anything I say or do that they don't agree with falls in this category, and there is no point at all in attempting to explain that it isn't, in fact, about them, that my family and I are simply living our lives in a way that fulfills us deeply, and that this happens to be a way of life very different from theirs.
If our family dynamic had been healthy and supportive, during our childhoods, we all would have learned that each of us is different, and totally unique. There would be no reason whatever to expect that four different people, with four different personalities, experiences, talents and weaknesses, would live congruent lives.
They might see, and understand, that I have always been more wild than tame, and that an unschooling life would be just the type of thing to speak to my unfettered and independent, intuitive and creative nature.
|Jeremiah and Annalise making merry with Elijah's tree.|
They might see that it is possible to disagree with someone - even passionately and to the core of one's being - and still respect the other's right to their own truth, and to give that truth a voice.
My older brother played the assigned role of the family scapegoat, even before I was born 3.5 years later. I remember some of the cruel things that were done to this fellow human as some of my earliest memories....but those are not my stories to tell, and so I won't say more.
|Peaceful television time.|
We live in different types of communities, and have different types of friends, and different pastimes.
Yet, we get along quite well...because we do not impose our judgement of what is valuable in life upon each other. We learn things from each other, and enjoy spending time visiting, and accept that there will always be those areas upon which we cannot agree.
We called a truce on those, a long time ago, and we both honor that truce. We may say difficult things to each other if either of us is compelled to, but, even then,. we understand that our words may not change things.
And we say what we feel we must with love and acceptance that we are not alike at the forefront.
Never have I assumed that he (or either of my other siblings), was living their life with the intention of disrespecting my choices. That seems an inherently damaged attitude.... one that assumes that others live their lives with you at their center, that they choose how to raise their children, what to read, and what to say only based on whether that will make you angry or uncomfortable. Or that they should tailor their lives, their opinions, and what they choose to share of their lives only in ways you approve of.
|Horse skull discovery. They spend a lot of time together, even with a whole meadow and forest to explore. Summer 2010, York, PA, ages 8 and 5.|
|Sunggles and grins!|
The reason I know, today, that the sibling experience I had is not the natural order of things, is Jeremiah and Annalise, and the lifetime I have spent living alongside and within their relationship with each other.
Do they fight? Yes, they do. On increasingly rare occasions they will still hit or hurt each other. They are, after all, two young people growing and learning. They are also two passionate and strong-willed people who do not always agree, and who are in the process of learning how to negotiate, see another's perspective,. and when to walk away because agreement is impossible.
|Watermelon Fun! Summer 2010|
The difference is - they ARE learning these things. They WANT to.
|Happy grape eaters!|
A few reasons I can think of are:
- They like themselves.
- They like each other.
- They like their lives.
- They both get plenty of individual attention, and time to be together, and time with the family group.
- They have as much or as little time alone as they choose each day.
- They have their own spaces,
- They are in charge of those spaces.
- They see their parents learning to negotiate.
- They know their side of the story will be heard, if they wish to share it.
- They know someone will help them to understand their sibling's viewpoint.
- We have made ample spaces in our home for them to be alone or together.
- We treat what is important to each of them as important, and help as needed with meeting their goals.
- We see them and treat them as individuals, and value what is unique in each of them.
- They spend a lot of time together.
- Life is better when they are getting along - they are good friends, and being mad hurts.
|Invented games on Annalise's bed, on Annalise's 5th birthday.|
We were not, however, given any conflict resolution tools. Nor were techniques for negotiating peacefully a part of our lives. When our parents fought, there would be screaming, and slamming doors, and days maybe of my mother hiding in her bedroom, not coming out. That was scary...but not as scary as when they both decided that we had somehow caused it or made things worse.
|Birthday fun at the mall...|
Neither was there any consistent effort to get to the bottom of the disagreements. to help us to settle them. It did not matter that my sister and I were incompatible on many levels from the time we were small. It didn't matter that we kept asking to be allowed to divide the room with bookcases, a half-wall, or even a curtain. I was cluttered and expansive, and she was neat and linear. We tried to resolve the issue, with a divider, but my mother had the idea that sisters should share a room and get along (despite, or maybe because, she didn't get along well with her own sister...), and, again, her dream restricted our reality.
|Together, in the middle of a long couch.|
|After the races......part of life in Saratoga County!|
We were simply expected not to fight. End of story.
When Jeremiah and Annalise argue, we stay near, and attentive. More and more of the time, they don't need us to intervene. When they do, they know that no one will be punished - and that they will get some insight into the other's position. They also know they won't be forced to a resolution, that they have the freedom to walk away, and to consider, and to try again, until a resolution is found. They also know that name-calling, blame, and nastiness don't help.
|Lise helped Miah learn her Little Toot choreography.|
We remind them, or get between them, on the rare occasion things get too heated. We strive to help without making it our issue,without unnecessary words or fuss and without demanding that they stop fighting. We respect that they both have a truth, and neither perspective is less valid.
This isn't always easy, because we are still learning as we go along, and because children and the tensions within them and between them can change so suddenly.
We make the peace of our family more important than who is right or wrong. Since we all share a conviction that peaceful living is better than living in conflict, they generally are willing to be helped. When someone is not, that is nearly always a sign they need rest or a bit of solitude to recover.
|Pillow fun - ages 6 and 3.|
We do most of the talking about these things when life is calm. They both take in information better when they don't feel that their turf is being threatened in some way. We talk about choices that help or hurt the peace of our home.
As I write this, it occurs to me that what we're doing, what all peaceful parents do, is making it easier for our children to love one another. We smooth the rough places, over time - not with commands and consequences imposed from outside, but with actual tools they can use to get along better - with each other, with us, with anyone else. We're helping them to learn that their perceptions aren't fact; and might be the opposite of someone else's, and yet, that does not make either of them wrong..
These children have always loved one another. What we've done is let them focus on that love, and not on endless unresolved conflict.We give them the tools and support to have many, many more peaceful and happy moments with each other than dramatic or traumatic ones.
My mother used to dream that my sister and I would grow up and learn to see each other in a way that matched the sister-fantasy she kept in her mind. But she didn't have the tools to give us; the tools that might have helped us to form a mutually respectful friendship, despite the differences in our natures, that could have grown with us into adulthood.
|Miah, at 3, and Lise, not yet 1 - so little. Such good friends.|
|Traffic Jam, ages just 2 and almost 5.|
I see my children growing a bond that is stronger and deeper than I imagined a sibling bond could be - and I don't need to build a fantasy around a dream. I get to live it, each and every day - and, as they get older, and learn new and deeper skills for relating with each other, it gets better and better.
And, with every day, I find deeper healing in being witness to this strengthening relationship, knowing that it is theirs, and not mine; and in doing all I can to support that connection, to not interfere too much in it, so that they can carry it with them throughout their lives, in a way that pleases them both.
With the freedom to go where they choose, with spaces of their own, and room to be away from one another, they are most often together.
|Ages 2 and 5, in fancy duds sent by Gramma Jan in Oregon.|
I find it endlessly amazing that something as delightful as the time they spend together is helping them to be capable of forming strong and fulfilling bonds throughout their lifetimes.
|Lise recently felt she needed to apologize to Miah . This is how she chose to do it....close-ups below....|
|Sorry! (exclamation point not shown...)|
Happy Valentine's Day, Jeremiah and Annalise. I love you both!
|Jeremiah fixed Marshmallow (Koko's baby) the gorilla for Annalise|
|Close up of eye transplant surgery.|