There were never such devoted sisters.
Do you remember that song from the movie "White Christmas"? It was written by Irving Berlin, and it expresses, in a very light hearted but effective way, the dichotomous clash between devotion and competition that is at the heart of the relationship between sisters. Kiley and Mackey are sisters. One is three and the other is eighteen months old, and, being preschoolers, they are together all day every day. They are a team. They play together, watch TV together, eat their meals together, and sleep in the same room. With that much contact it is remarkable how well they get along together. They adore one another. They rarely get angry with each other. They share everything without conflict or complaint. Each is always looking out for the best interests of the other without any thought of, or concern for, themselves. They epitomize the concept of loving devotion. They are kind and generous to one another, calm and reasonable whenever the rare disagreement does occur. Selfless and self-sacrificing, caring and considerate, faithful and thoughtful, they fill the house with warmth and tranquility and make every day a paradise of joy and serenity. Yeah, as if!
The other day Mackey was playing happily without a care in the world when she picked up a small toy. It was nothing special, merely one toy figurine from the mountain of toys that have sprouted up in my family room and occupied every nook and cranny of my once neat and orderly house. Unfortunately, as unimportant and inconsequential as this particular bauble was, in Kiley's mind it fell within the wide category of objects that she defines as "hers". Upon noticing the transgression, Kiley's face changed from an expression of calm normalcy to one of cold outrage. She pounced on her beloved sister, and grabbing her by the wrist was intent on wresting the desired object from her possession, but Mackey, realizing what was happening, was too quick for her. She broke free and ran. This, however, was merely a temporary reprieve from the inevitable. At eighteen months Mackey is rough and tumble, stout and strong, she is brave and doesn't back down, but she is no match for Kiley, who is larger and has a three-year-old's speed, agility, and coordination. "Kiley!" I said in a raised voice and warning tone, but this had no effect as the curly haired hound from hell closed in on her fleeing prey. She was "in the zone" and words alone were not going to deter her. She quickly caught up with Mackey and, forcing her to the floor, held her down as she began to pry the disputed treasure from her chubby little grip, all the while ignoring her sister's kicks and screams of protest, a look of intense determination on her face. I intervened, returned the item to it's original possessor, and put Kiley in "Time Out" with a lecture about sharing and the rights of possession which I'm sure went in one ear, mixed with her tears, and went right out the other. It will take many such battles for a three-year-old to learn true generosity. Ah, the tranquility!
The older Mackey becomes the more they compete. Our day always begins with the same routine. The car pulls up in the driveway with the girls in their car seats in the back, Kiley facing forward and Mackey facing to the rear. They always seem excited to see me, which I love. Originally, I would get Kiley out of the car and carry her into the house while their mother would take care of Mackey. Me carrying Kiley into the house each morning is a routine that was established before Mackey was born. A few weeks ago, however, Mackey started wanting me to carry her into the house as well and each day became more and more adamant that I do so (Mackey wants to emulate her big sister in many things). It soon became an issue that I thought to solve by carrying them both into the house one at a time. This solution was only partially successful in that they soon began to battle over who would be first to benefit from my carrying services each morning. I now try to alternate days, carrying Kiley first one day and Mackey first the next, which placates them only to the degree that a three-year-old and an eighteen-month-old can keep such a pattern straight in their heads from day to day. "Calm down Mackey, you went first yesterday."
Kiley and Uncle Tom have always had a coffee making ritual that they share. They have a number of rituals which they share, actually: an Uncle Tom coming home from work ritual, an Uncle Tom going to bed after working the night shift ritual, an Uncle Tom carrying Kiley out to the car ritual, etc. They were all created before Mackey was born. The coffee making ritual is, by far, the most elaborate one.
In the coffee making ritual, Uncle Tom turns the coffee maker on then picks up Kiley and holds her in his left arm so she can help him make the coffee. First he opens the cabinet and she takes his coffee cup out and puts it on the counter. Then he looks at her and she says, "spoon". He gets a spoon from the drawer and hands it to her. Then he looks at her and she says, "sugar". She hands him the spoon and he doles out the desired amount of sugar and puts it into the cup. Then he looks at her and she says, "blue", which means a blue packet of Equal, the artificial sweetener. (Yes, Uncle Tom takes sugar and Equal. He has very particular tastes.) He hands her a packet of Equal, which she shakes to get the contents to gravitate to the bottom of the packet, tears open the top, and pours it into the cup. He walks her over the trashcan and leans down so she can open the trashcan and throw away the empty packet. Next he pours coffee into the cup. He looks at her and says, "hot", and she nods. He stirs the coffee. He looks at her again and she says, "milk". He opens the fridge, takes out the jug of milk, and hands it to her. She says, "it's heavy", regardless of how much milk is actually in the jug and unscrews the cap. She hands him back the jug and he pours the appropriate amount of milk into the cup. He holds the jug while she screws the cap back on then hands her the jug. She says, "it's heavy". He opens the fridge, she hands him the jug, he puts it in the fridge and she closes the door. He says, "thank you". She says, "you're welcome". Then they go sit on the sofa with Kiley in his lap and he drinks his coffee while they argue over what to watch on TV. This is all very strange, I know, but it's also sweet to watch. It is one of the ways they express affection for each other.
Mackey is now old enough that she has begun to join in on some of the rituals, especially the Uncle Tom going to bed after working the night shift ritual, which involves three kisses and three hugs (one of each for each of us), three blown kisses, and three "ni-nights". Kiley encourages her to join in and originally coached Mackey in what to do. That is all very heart warming and sweet, but some things are special and not everything can be shared. Now that Mackey is older, Uncle Tom will eventually create rituals that are specific to her and that only they will share because, well, that's just what he does. He had better do it soon. Last Friday when Uncle Tom came down to greet them in the morning, Mackey seemed unusually overjoyed to see him. When he picked her up she pointed to the coffee maker. I smell trouble brewing.
In spite of the sarcastic nature of the first paragraph above, Kiley and Mackey truly are devoted to each other. Their days together really are punctuated with many expressions of affection toward each other (and fighting), sharing (and fighting), cooperation (and fighting), mutual fun (and fighting), and enjoyment of each other. In other words they are typical sisters. Who would want it any other way?