It's not even 7 a.m. and I hear giggling.
It's Saturday and the two of them, my four-year-old and seven-year-old, are in the playroom. I hear her sweet chattering and then, a moment later, his enormous, infectious belly laugh. Over and over they go: Chatter chatter chatter, belly laugh, belly laugh, belly laugh.
"Oh, Reese," he says. "Oh, Finn," she says, the two of them finding one another fascinating, hilarious.
"What was all that?" I ask when they show up in my room a few moments later to climb into our bed, snuggle under the sheets and make a pillow-y fort out of me and my duvet.
They peer up at me, hair halo'ed around their heads, puzzled looks on their faces. "What do you mean, Mama?"
"You know," I prompt. "When Sissy was talking and Finn was laughing crazily?"
Two blank stares. How can they remember, that was so five minutes ago?
Or maybe it's that the laughter is common and ever present. The tears, too, though less so. They have been making each other laugh and cry for four years now. A look can be interpreted as teasing, or hilarious, depending on everyone's mood. There is a sibling code with clear (to them, at least) translation. Everything is an inside joke, an offense, a competition. Finn, my little one, will make a random sound and that's now the sound that sends Reese into either hysterics or fury. There is no logic to it -- they are on the sibling wavelength and there is no room for outsiders. Referees are welcome, though.
As an only child until the age of fourteen, I find this overwhelming at times. Everything is louder in my house than in the homes of my childhood. There is screaming and yelling and wrestling and tickling and fighting and laughter, often all at once or in close succession -- peace and quiet are as scarce as matching socks around here. And now from the playroom, in the midst of Reese (who is forty-tissues deep in a snotty nose cold) teaching Finn how to read to their imaginary class, I hear:
"Finn, you are not doing it right. I'm not going to teach you anymore."
Grunt. Stomping. More grunting.
"Finn, you need to be nice to me, and not just 'cause I'm sick. You need to treat me the way you want to be treated."
Finn is unimpressed with the invocation of the Golden Rule. He barrels past me, red-faced, into his room.
I sit for a moment, waiting for someone to break. Usually they can't be apart for long but this time, no one's budging: Reese is in the playroom, quiet, and Finn is in his bedroom whimpering. I appeal to the eldest.
"Reese," I say, in a voice that's clearly not taking sides, "Finn sounds pretty upset."
"Well, I'm upset too. I'm mad actually. Finn said he's not going to talk to me for the rest of the day."
We converge, the three of us, on Finn's bed. I tell him threatening one another with silence isn't allowed (as good as it may sound to me), how upsetting that would be to him -- an attempt to appeal to his four-year-old capacity for empathy, which is actually amazingly large and impressive at times.
He hugs her, she hugs him, they forgive and all is right with our world and will be for at least the next thirty seconds...or maybe for the entire day. You never know. They move on to Legos or art or dance party, on to a life of careening toward and away from one another in love and learning, letting each other down and lifting each other up in equal measure.
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