February 14, 2008 – Last week, I bought my kids Purim costumes. It’s in a month or so, and I’m not one for sewing, so we gathered around my computer and directed the mouse to www.buycostumes.com. Eliana was easy. “I want to be Cinderella,” said my girly-girl, who was wearing a plastic necklace, pink chunky plastic high-heels and twelve shades of pink.
“I’ll be Harry Potter,” said Asher, with whom I’ve read the first three J.K. Rowling books. He chose the wine-colored Quidditch robe over the plain black Hogwarts one, little round spectacles, and a battery-operated wand that lights up at the end when he points it and exclaims, “Lumos!”
I tried to order him the Snitch on another costume-selling site, but my computer kept crashing whenever I clicked on it. I tried not to see it as a metaphor.
Shaya is not even two, so I figured I could find some cute, plush costume and make the decision myself. No such luck. With Asher and Eliana to goad him on, we ended up with a siblings vs. Mommy duel: I wanted the stripe-and-polka dot clown with wires to make the pants stand out in the middle, while my older children wanted to dress up their baby brother as a pint-sized Captain America.
“Which do you want, Shaya?” I asked sweetly. “Clown or Captain America?”
He looked from me to his sister and brother and carefully said, “Uh-meer-ee-ka.”
On some level, I know that the sibling relationship has the potential to be more powerful than the parent-child connection. I mean, I know it myself, sharing jokes with my own two sibs that my parents don’t begin to understand (though my parents are pretty hip). But come on – my kids are still in the single-digits. I figured I still had more influence over them than anyone else.
But I see it in Shaya’s eyes: his understanding of his self is wholly enclosed in a context of other people. When Asher and Eliana are at school, he’s lonely, he looks for them. When a door opens, he looks up with the eager hope that it’s someone come to play with him, someone not much bigger than himself with the kind of silly energy that only a sibling has. As a third child, he does not know himself outside of the context of his siblings.
Now that we’re divorcing, I can see how sibling relationships will potentially save our children. As they shuffle from my house, the place they will spend most of their days and nights, to their father’s new abode, the one constant will be each other. In the gloom of the divided-family world, they’ll have some sunshine in each other.
Where will Avy or I find sunshine? While supportive, my siblings are grown with families of their own. Avy’s family thrives on disconnection – two of his sisters are entrenched in their religious worlds while the third lives a solo life of her own, having divorced years ago.
Perhaps that is a reason we are divorcing in the first place. Had we been more grounded in our family contexts, would we have chosen the wrong partner in the first place? But it’s not as simple as that. For us, it’s not at all about siblings anymore – it’s about figuring out who we are in the world, in and out of family contexts and histories.
I suppose my sunshine will have to be the fact that my children have each other to ride the rocky sea-change together. The rest I’ll figure out as I go along.