Family life

Sibling rivalry: Moments of unexpected bonding

Jennifer Pinarski witnesses a magical moment where her children bond rather than bicker.

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Isaac and Gillian bond over bikes. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

“Can you keep a secret?”

My son was the first person I told I was pregnant, showing him the positive pregnancy test as soon as the faint pink double lines appeared on the stick. He was two-and-a-half and still in the habit of following me into the bathroom.

“Don’t tell Daddy yet, but you’re going to be a big brother!” I said.

“Will it be a boy baby?” he asked, whispering as loud as excited toddlers tend to do, especially when they’ve just been told a secret.

“I don’t know buddy, we don’t get to choose if it’s a boy or girl,” I told him.

Crestfallen, my son looked at the pregnancy test and informed me that if it was a girl baby he’d name it Quesadilla. “That’s because it’s a food I like. But I’d name it something funner if it is a boy baby.”

Read more: Name maps: 3 decades of top baby names in Canada, province by province > 

Of course, we never found out what Isaac would have called a baby boy, because eight months later his little sister Gillian was born. The day he met her for the first time in the hospital, he was more interested in trying on the surgical gloves and racing his Hot Wheels over the buttons on my hospital bed. At three years apart he had, at best, a benign interest in the squawking bundle in my arms. I hadn’t expected them to be instant buddies, but I did wonder if three years was too much of a gap for my two children to overcome. I was little jealous of my friends whose kids were 12 or 18 months apart, an age gap that seemed to be perfect for bonding.

Read more: Is there an ideal age gap between siblings? >

As my kids got older, it seemed that my button-pushing daughter had an uncanny knack for zeroing in on my son’s frustration triggers. Lego buildings toppled, Easter candy stolen, crayons snapped—getting a rise out of him was her only mission. Her favourite torture was to run around and try and kiss him, a game that made him cry every time.

Read more: Sibling fighting: How to keep the peace >

But something magical has happened recently in their sibling relationship. The bickering is still there, but above it is a sense of camaraderie that is new and precious. It started when I brought out Isaac’s old balance bike for Gillian to ride. It wasn’t the bike she wanted—a new glossy petal pink contraption with a basket for dolls. No, this was a severely loved bike, red paint scraped off in parts from the many spills Isaac took on it. The best I could offer her were pink plastic streamers to stick in the worn handlebars.

“I will fall off because the bike is red and not pink,” declared Gillian.

“But if you fall, that’s OK. I fell off all the time when I started riding my bike,” countered Isaac.

“You did?”

“Yeah! One time I smashed my face going down a hill and got blood everywhere. But Mommy gave me a popsicle. If you ride your bike I can ride with you. And if you fall down I’ll get you a popsicle.”

“You’ll really ride your bike with me?” Gillian asked suspiciously.

“Yes, but you have to go first,” he replied.

And that’s all it took for my daughter to fall in love with her beat-up hand-me-down bike: the promise of a popsicle and a chance to earn road rash with the coolest bike riding partner ever.

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