I’ve mentioned before that for all the ways they can be different, my kids have an interestingly typical relationship. They occasionally play together, in their own way. They certainly seek each other out. There are fights. There is blaming each other for things they’ve done wrong. There is teaming up as co-conspirators to wreak havoc. There is a surprising amount of what you might call “normal” sibling behaviour. And amongst all that, is jealousy.
Both of my kids like a lot of attention, and each becomes jealous of the other, particularly if I’m the only one around. It is hard to handle, this push and pull, particularly when their needs can make it hard to be around each other. Often I feel that if I’m not letting one down, I’m letting them both down.
And that push and pull goes a good way to describing my own jealousy. I don’t feel jealous very often. I like my life and the choices that I’ve made. But I’m only human. Once in a while, a feeling of jealousy will overwhelm me. Like when I took the kids to the park.
Our local playground is renovating, so we went to the park near where Cubby plays football (soccer) which has a playground next to a cafe/restaurant. A couple of times, we girls have gone there while the boys were at their game. Pudding loves flitting between the playground and my table. I’m free to relax over a pot of tea while keeping an eye on her play. We both have a good time.
With Cubby there too, sitting at the restaurant is out of the question. The push and pull takes me from one direction to another. There is no relaxing and observing with the two of them. I sit on a bench, knowing it won’t be for long, but I’m feeling unwell and could use the break. Pudding pushes off, wanting to explore and take her dolly for a walk. Cubby pulls in to me. When we first arrive he is overwhelmed at first by the other children running around and making noise. I gently encourage him to adjust to his new surroundings, and away from the safety of my proximity.
Pudding wanders too far. I want to pull her back into a closer orbit. I push Cubby to follow me closer to Pudding, but he isn’t ready yet, and refuses to move. I watch her closely. We’re not far, but she keeps going in the wrong direction. She hasn’t turned back yet, and I wonder if she remembers where we are. I call to her, but she doesn’t hear, or doesn’t respond. The other kids playing, the other adults sitting and chatting make too much noise.
She turns around in a circle, but she still doesn’t see me. I wave my arms like an air traffic controller, but it is too bright, and there are too many others running around her field of vision. Now she is scared, and I hear her calling me. Her face is a picture of anxiety. I pick up the protesting Cubby and run to her relief. All is well again. I abandon the bench, and draw both of them back to the playground, warning Pudding that she needs to keep looking for me. She doesn’t stray again.
I want to rest. I feel the first sting of jealousy as I look over at them. Tables of mothers with their friends. Worse, with their own mothers. At that moment, I want nothing more in the world than to be sitting over tea with my mum. I force myself to concentrate on the kids instead, so the emotion doesn’t take over. Another child takes Pudding’s doll stroller without asking, and she lets her. She just stands there, until I ask if she wants it back. She does, and I coach her through asking the girl to return it. And when the little brat refuses, I intervene myself, because her own parent who should be watching is at one of these tables, doing something other than paying attention to her child’s behaviour.
And the jealousy is throbbing now, because there is never a moment when I’m not paying attention to my kid’s behaviour. This luxury of being able to ignore, to content yourself that your child will be fine is something all these mothers take for granted. I can’t even sit on a bench when I feel sick. I can’t even visit a doctor unless they’re in school. I live on a different continent to all my relatives, and right at this moment I’m bitterly jealous of the carefree families relaxing in the sunshine.
I take the stroller and call Pudding and Cubby to join me on a climbing frame in the shape of a rocket. My mood calms down as we play. Cubby is driving us to the mall. Pudding has her doll on her lap for the journey. I’m pretending we can see planets and spaceships on our journey. We have a few minutes of uninterrupted contentment. Then we are disturbed.
A boy, probably eight or nine years old comes over to the rocket. I get down so there is plenty of room for him to play as well, but hang close by. He climbs up on top, over the area where my two are sitting. Cubby moves away from the driver’s seat, and Pudding uses the space to lie down- she and Kelly doll are taking a nap. A smile at the unexpected gift of pretend play.
The first time he does it, I think it was an accident. He was trying to get down, and accidentally stood on her head as he looked for somewhere to place his feet. That must have been it. Even though there was plenty of other space around, he didn’t look before he started to climb down. That had to be it. She doesn’t react, though it must have hurt. I look up at the boy, and he is looking down at Pudding. But he isn’t climbing down. And he raises his foot again, and stomps down harder on Pudding’s head.
This time I’m sure it is deliberate. I’m too shocked to speak, and it is Cubby’s voice I hear telling me that the boy is kicking his sister. He lifts his leg again, and before I know it, I’ve pulled myself up on the climbing frame, and we are face to face. He freezes. I don’t say anything, but the look on my face is enough. He backs away and scampers off the rocket. I go over to Pudding, still lying there, not even able to put her arms protectively around her head, but she is okay.
I’m not. I’m not interested in the boy, but I’m poisoned with rage and I need to find this child’s parents. He has already run out of sight. I cast my eye over every table, but not one person is looking, or following in his direction. Pudding wants to go home, so we do.
But even once we’re home, I can feel that jealousy like venom spreading through my body. Because if my child attacks another, whether provoked or not, or under sensory assault, or just because they are plain mean; we have to answer it with more therapy. With more hours spent helping our children learn to respond to the world in a socially appropriate way. We don’t get to ignore it, and we don’t get to sit over a latte oblivious to the damage being done. We can’t absolve ourselves of responsibility even for a moment.
There is an antidote, of course. Those other parents don’t know what they’re missing out on, and they really are missing out on so much. You can’t fully appreciate what you have when you’re not paying attention. And not every parent of typically developing children is inattentive, not by a long shot. But some are, and at times I’m just plain jealous of them, when perhaps it should be the other way round.