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conflict happens

2015 August 5
by Rachel Turiel

sibs4

We’re in the late afternoon vortex, everyone milling around the house like they’re auditioning for the role of most irritable, lethargic family member. The kids are bickering for the same half-hearted reason I keep cruising by the chocolate, because it seems like it might be the answer to something.

Their argument is escalating much like an unproductive cough, and I find myself shocked at how two people sprung forth from such enduring, hopeful love could throw such brutal barbs at each other. And, it’s not that I expected them to skip through the daisies of life perpetually holding hands (OK, maybe I did a little bit), but I wasn’t quite prepared for the way they’d take on bickering like it was a daily vitamin in which they were deficient.

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Their fighting puts me on some crazy alert, ringing the panic button of my nervous system. I retreat to my room to breathe in enormous, gasping inhales and to dose myself with self-empathy. Their fighting is so upsetting for me. I wish they appreciated each other more. Peaceful communication is so important to me. It turns out self-empathy is the elephant tranquilizer for my nervous system. I remember, miraculously, that most siblings have a little pre-programmed button labeled: I need to be seen as an individual; push here for proof.

Also, I remember that my kids are kind, generous people who often get a little derailed, a little provoked, a little panicked. They need me to dive deep into the murky soup of their discord, prepared to listen, validate feelings and to surface with better understanding of their individual needs. It can be messy and full of spluttering trials. We all eventually swim into the light.

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I emerge from my room with the intention of listening without judgment, and the kids are curious enough about my temporary refuge-taking that the trance of their bickering is broken. They need help, they announce, to figure out who has senior rights to the inner tube recently resurrected from its spidery habitat in the shed. I moderate, showing no preferential treatment, even though I’m tempted to announce that a certain someone has taken on the same smug, entitled attitude common to dictators. This little dictator is ultimately kind and generous, I remind myself, with a new and complex need to feel separate from parents, and from that sibling who’s always lurking close by. We call that need autonomy, or independence, or even freedom.

The kids make a plan, which includes multiple contingencies. I fix my mouth in a smile, as self-encouragment to believe in their solutions. I listen, repeat their plan back to them, and flee to the arugula patch, the harvesting of which has become my daily therapy: Pluck leaves, throw stems to the chickens, hose down leaves, bag up, repeat. I find my lungs expanding.

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By the time the kids trickle outside Rose is trying to teach Col the precise hand claps that go with Down By The Banks of the Hanky Panky. She’d like him to observe a dissertation-style lesson of coordinating hands movements with singing and Col says, “Rosie, I know it,” and it begins to rain, which is the best news the Earth could deliver. I run into the greenhouse and bring the fennel plants outside to be bathed in real, live, falling rainwater. The grosbeaks, house finches, and house sparrows, who’ve camped out at our feeders all summer are silent for once. The kids execute disjointed hand claps while singing, cheerfully, out of synch. And we all stand under the light, gentle rain and are absolved.

The clouds part and the sun throws down medicinal beams. We strap the inflated inner tube, which feels as coveted as the Hope Diamond, to my bike trailer, and ride down to the river. Here, the ever-changing Animas River reflects it all: the ebb and flow, the dynamism, the shaping and eroding of emotions, qualities, and needs. Turns out, Col is more interested in searching for garter snakes with his friends then tubing around, and so even though the 8-point inner tube contract stated that he would have exclusive rights for the first two hours, Rose takes possession (which, honestly, was written into Contingency Plan A).

I kick back in the sand with Mama-friends, knowing that conflict happens, there is a way through, and we can all walk back into the light.

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Related posts:

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the chasm
Field guide to weathering the (emotional) storm, and *an invitation


14 Responses leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    August 5, 2015

    just the balm i needed today, riding the rails of topsy turvy steam-driven emotion, coincidentally arising from falling rain, that seems to have rocketed us into a “what-do-we-do-now? sort of panic ….. i think we may need a rainy bike-ride to the creek. :)

  2. August 5, 2015

    just the balm i needed today, riding the rails of topsy turvy steam-driven emotion, coincidentally arising from falling rain, that seems to have rocketed us into a “what-do-we-do-now? sort of panic ….. i think we may need a rainy bike-ride to the creek. :)

    ~erin x

  3. August 5, 2015

    This one is great.

  4. Amber Lena permalink
    August 5, 2015

    “Their fighting is so upsetting for me. I wish they appreciated each other more. Peaceful communication is so important to me.”

    These exact thoughts are in my brain when my twin girls bicker. But then I remind myself that sibling interactions, including arguments, lay the groundwork for successful adult communications. (But still… it bugs me!)

  5. Andree permalink
    August 5, 2015

    Thank You! Your words are beautiful and thoughtful. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Dan permalink
    August 5, 2015

    Superduper, how do you do it? Take all this wrangling and make it so beautiful? Nice sharing, making it all seem somehow not so gripping. Thank you, love you, Dan

  7. jennifer murphy permalink
    August 5, 2015

    So beautiful. I love your writing!

  8. Diane H permalink
    August 5, 2015

    Rachel, you really made me aware of new shifts in conversation that can be had about sibling (and any) bickering. I hear your commitment to peaceful communication! One cliche is that “siblings always bicker” and that is the cliche of the world that I was raised in and know inside and out. But, if you are committed to peaceful communication, and who isn’t, those cliches can be tossed and new conversations around conflict can be created. P.S. I would have been so roped in when the bickering started and admire how you were able to disengage.

  9. August 6, 2015

    Rachel this is magnificently written, so candid and heart-felt and captures so well how a conscious mom gets through the day caring for herself first and then attending to the children. Thank you.

  10. August 6, 2015

    Lovely. And yes!
    I’ve decided sibling conflict is the best safe space to master the rules of engagement they’ll need throughout their lives.
    (This is what I tell myself as I hide in the pantry cupboard, whimpering and eating chocolate while they rage around the house ….)

  11. August 6, 2015

    Oh, this is good to read. The sibling conflict thing is so dang hard. Argh, it weighs on my soul, and I am glad to know I am in such great company. Yes, there is a way through and into the light. A temporary dictator is so hard to empathize with in the moment!! Thanks for the perspective. The need for individuality. Yes. Right.

  12. Beth permalink
    August 11, 2015

    Just reading the NYTimes with my morning coffee… Heart dropped when I saw the river. I am sending ever so much love to your family and Durango.

  13. Susan S permalink
    August 13, 2015

    Rachel, your children are so very beautiful, both of them, each in their own ways.

    Two things I wonder about: 1) When I was growing up with my brother and sister, we bickered a lot, but let an outsider threaten one of us, and the other two came running like absolute berserkers. Hell hath no fury, indeed. My cousins were the same way, and there were 5 of them, so the bickering was quite a bit louder in their house. Are Rose and Col like that? Pick at each other a lot but rally to protect each other? 2) Do you notice seasonal fluctuations in the way Rose and Col interact? All my life, my anxiety/irritation level jacks itself up at the summer to fall season change. I’m 48 now, so I’m a little better at controlling the cranky than I used to be, but it’s still there. I wonder if other people also have mood swings related to season changes?

    As always, you and your family are beautiful in yourselves every day. I’m thinking my best thoughts for you and everybody in your area as you deal with the toxic spill into the Animas. I do hope you will let us know if there is anything we can do to support you. Susan :-)

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      August 14, 2015

      You are a dear X infinity. Will e-mail you.

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