After just arriving home from our day of school and work yesterday, I walked into the living room where my two children were standing facing each other, the elder one with her back to me, so she was unaware of my presence entering the room. The little one had both hands covering her mouth and sounds of “ew, ew” were coming from between her fingers.
“Lily!” My daughter jumps and whirls around with the most guilty face and posture known to man. “What are you doing?” (Honestly, I don’t know why I am constantly asking this question, I never get an answer other than “nothing!” yet I continue to ask the absurd as if someday hoping for the truth).
And yes, her answer was “nothing!”, but her eyes darted to the table next to the couch where I keep all my handy items. My mom instincts told me that the instrument of torture was the bottle of nose spray sitting there.
“Lily, did you spray that into your sister’s mouth?”
“Um… am I going to get into really big trouble if I did?”
“You will be in really big trouble if you lie about it! Now, did you spray that into your sister’s mouth?”
“Why would you do that?” (Yes, yet another stupid mom question)
“I don’t know.”
“How can you not know? Do you act without thought? Are you a thinking individual or not? Do you have control of your actions or not?”
“Lily, are you trying to kill your sister? Or make her sick?”
“Then why do you do these things?”
“I don’t know.”
Fortunately, the nose spray was nothing more than saline with a drop of eucalyptus oil in it; still I’m sure it tasted pretty bad. The little sister was given a glass of milk to drink and was fine. And really, if this is the worst Lily has done to Meika then I count myself lucky. I’ve heard some real horror stories in my time from friends and acquaintances and it is a wonder that any child survives childhood if they have an older sibling; especially if that sibling is a boy. (Sorry, I am not trying to be misogynistic, but you will see that most of my examples will bear this out).
I was telling some co-workers about Lily’s little experiment and this triggered several shared stories from their childhoods as well. One’s brother sat on her face and in an effort not to suffocate, she bit the offending posterior and was subsequentially the one punished. Apparently a butt bite is a worse offense than the suffocation of a little sister; parents can be so unjust sometimes. Or maybe judgment goes in favor of whoever is screaming the loudest.
Another co-worker has two older brothers who when she was eight years old got tired of her following them around and locked her in a metal trash can that had handles that clamped the lid down tight. IN THE SUMMER. IN THE SOUTH. The only thing that saved her was that her mother decided to take a coffee and cigarette break next to the kitchen window and noticed the trash can inexplicably rolling around the yard. Figuring that perhaps a possum had gotten trapped inside, she saw no reason to rush her little respite and proceeded to finish her coffee and cigarette before venturing out to cautiously release the trash can lid only to find her sweat drenched, tear stained daughter inside.
At another time while on vacation, it was this same woman’s father who saved her from plunging over Niagara Falls. And in fact it was because she was a girl and was wearing a dress that he could grab onto that saved her when her brothers -- in an effort to be funny and scare her half to death -- pushed her off the stone wall barrier she was sitting on while quietly minding her own business gazing at this wonder of nature. She said she had been scared so badly that she wet her pants and then in addition to having had a near death experience she had an extremely uncomfortable and humiliating rest of the day in wet underwear.
One guy I used to date set his two year old brother afloat on a pond in one of those plastic baby bathtubs. He doesn’t remember who rescued him or how in creation the child hadn’t drowned.
Yet another former boyfriend, who was the oldest of four children, all the others being girls actually tried to avoid his sisters as much as possible. He was pretty bitter with the fates that had dealt him a family of three younger sisters and no brother with whom to commiserate. But he did tell me the story of how one of the middle sisters took the youngest, about age four at the time, and told her to stand on the edge of a throw rug and close her eyes. She then yanked the rug out from under her sister’s feet, landing her flat on her back and her head wacked against the hardwood floor. Crying would ensue, the elder would calm the younger, and then convince her yet again to repeat the madness… over and over and over again, each time assuring her wee sibling that she would in no way pull the rug out from under her again -- and then again she would. Who knows how many lumps to the back of the head that little kid received before finally learning that her sister was lying.
But the worst I have ever heard was this story told by two brothers who laughed wildly through the entire telling. They were teenagers at the time and had gotten a hold of some firecrackers and were lighting them and throwing them at each other (yeah, you think that you know where this is going, but it is far, far worse). One boy had the majority of his firecrackers stored in his back pocket. His brother came up behind him while he was occupied with preparing his next missile and lit the fuse on one of the crackers in his pocket which created a chain reaction which lit all of the firecrackers at once and set the boy’s clothes on fire.
By the time the fire was extinguished the only clothing left on him was the waistband to his underwear. (At this point both men were laughing so uproariously that they had to stop and catch their breath and wipe their eyes while the two women they were telling this story too -- myself and a friend -- stared at them in horror).
Once at the local Catholic hospital the wounded boy, obviously in shock, continued to entertain his brother by prancing about the hospital entrance completely exposed while a group of nuns chased him around with a wool (ugh!) blanket in order to cover his nakedness.
The boy set alight received third degree burns over a third of his body and nearly died, in fact their parents had ordered his coffin in preparation. He remains horribly scared over a good part of his torso, arms and legs, yet there these two men were, hysterical with mirth 30 years later and never once did either express having shown bad judgment.
I’ve heard tales of ribbons of spit being dangled in faces while pinned to the ground. Lies told about parentage. Children held prisoner in closets, boxes, trashcans, car trunks, dresser drawers. Younger brothers and sisters left tied to trees with jump ropes as pretense to a game and left forgotten.
Children blackmailed for some minor offense for years and made into virtual slaves in order to keep their sibs from revealing the transgression. Playtime traded away in unfair bargains. Stinky feet up noses, mouths full of worms and being told it’s spagetti. Being terrorized with spiders, snakes, wild animals, snot, and mud pies. Dares to jump off this or climb that. Put your finger in the wall socket; tie up the neighbor’s cat with clothes line.
Seriously, the list is virtually endless! And yet these little survivors make it through; they persevere and in turn learn valuable social lessons. Lessons such as how to tell when someone is lying like a snake, how to resist temptation, when to just walk away, when to notify the authorities, when to push back and stand up for yourself. When to get revenge now that you have grown and are bigger than your persecutor!
But the most interesting thing that I have noticed about the siblings that most tortured each other is that the torturers are also the most likely to come to the defense of and protect their younger family member. Lily will jump right in there like an angry wasp when a school mate questions Meika’s cleft scars or knocks her down while playing.
So should I be comforted or worried that my oldest is alternately feeding her little sister ice cream and nose spray? One minute screaming at her to stop touching her stuff, the next gifting her with that very same stuff? I suppose I will save the worry for now and just keep my eyes peeled for any serious instruments of torture. That and not allow any trips to places that have drop offs of any kind.