the karma of siblings
Col: let’s throw paper airplanes at the spinning ceiling fan! Rose: yeah!
Yesterday, outside: Col on skateboard, Rose on scooter, me performing the Winter Olympic event of soaking up the low-slung sun. Rose ditches her scooter and somehow finagles the first two laps down the hill on Col’s skateboard. After her second run Rose steps off the long board and shouts from the bottom of the hill, full-sass, “Come and get your skateboard!”
I feel something hot and sharp catch in my sun-bathing throat, something like indignation and protest; something like the words: Hey, that’s not fair! I look up at Col, who’s already walking down the hill to retrieve his skateboard, whistling a cheery February tune.
I swallow and say nothing.
This is not my protest in which to hoist the banner of my opinion. There is no one to protect, no one to scold. Col and Rose have their own karma.
Karma, (as defined by Buddha.net and wikipedia), refers to the principle of causality where our intent and actions influence our future. Karma is the result of our own past actions and our own present doings. We ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and misery.
Sibling relationships are a wild and mysterious thing. Something deep and old and unknowable is working itself out while it looks like Col and Rose are simply arguing over who got the best toy at the dentist.
My squirrely little mind wants to control, fix and steer. It wants to wave my red flag when I hear Rose commission Col to build her a lego computer for $3 (3 weeks allowance!), and then again the next day, when she demands a full refund. But who am I to say what’s best, right or helpful? They get to snap the pieces of their relationship puzzle together. If the pieces don’t fit, they can rotate or reconfigure them, sand them down, trade them out. Meanwhile, I swallow a wad of my own judgment and wish them peace.
Filing Col and Rose’s relationship under sibling karma is not a lazy way of checking out of my parenting duties. It does not mean that I don’t lead by example, or step in when the finger-claws come out. Rather, this allows them to engineer (and continually re-engineer) the terms of their relationship. Rose will come to kindness and generosity without me waving the Book of Morality in her face. Col will stand up for himself without the bodyguard of his Mama rushing in to protect him.
In fact, there may be nothing to protect. As an anonymous person said, I don’t have to attend every argument to which I’m invited. If Col even got the invite to attend a power struggle at the base of Skateboard Hill, it appeared he tossed it in favor of sailing down the asphalt. Maybe choosing not to be offended offers the reward of rewiring neural circuits, overlaying tired pathways that insist It’s All About Me. Maybe there was no choice, no victim, just a boy retrieving his skateboard.
These kids, and yours too, bring their whole complicated deep selves to every interaction. I get uncomfortable, dogmatic and righteous while their arguments crest and then wash out on grudge-free shores. Often, the best pep-talk I can give is to myself, to stand by quietly and trust them to work out their own tangled, mysterious and beautiful karma.
ps: Happiest of Valentines Day to you all. Thank you for coming back to this place again and again.
pps: And of course, only children have their own karma, too.