Long, long ago, when I had two-under-two, I wondered if my girls would ever be friends. At twenty months, my eldest was little more than a baby herself when her small sister was born, and she was understandably confused. I remember a work colleague who’d had a second child around the same time talking about how great the big sister was – how quickly she’d adapted, and how she adored her new sibling – and I wondered what was wrong with us. Of course there was nothing wrong – I know now all kids are different, and I also know my eldest finds change difficult (She still does – a new car, a new Sky box, and a new bin have all caused tears in the past.)
The first photos of the two girls together were taken when the baby was nine weeks old – because before that, her big sister refused. Not out of stubbornness or contrariness – she seemed to be shy of the baby. “Ah, she’s jealous,” people said, and I felt annoyed and defensive. She wasn’t jealous, she was just confused and displaced and awkward and shy.
Bit by bit, she got used to having a baby sister, and they co-existed happily. The next thing that stands out for me is a holiday in Schull when they were three and almost two. We rented a house with a huge garden, and the two girls spent the week running around and playing together – making up games, chattering. Holding hands.
I still remember vividly watching them holding hands. For the first time, I realised that they could be more than sisters – they could be playmates too. The small age-gap that had been so hard when they were babies might come good after all.
And of course, as the years rolled by, they had their ups and downs – daily, sometimes hourly. Some days they play games that last for hours and don’t need me at all, on others they can’t be together for five minutes without arguing. I’d guess they’re pretty normal siblings – they play, they fight, they play.
But there’s been something different for the last few weeks, and I’m trying to put my finger on it.
At the beginning of the Easter holidays, they started a detective agency. They needed to investigate the mystery of the disappearing cats. They had business cards and an office. Notebooks and clues. It was very serious. As soon as breakfast was over every morning, they’d ask if they could go out the front to continue investigating. Going out the front is still a novelty. It’s only been allowed since last summer, and they haven’t availed of it much during winter. But now it’s all the rage; walking down to the green, calling for their friend, and essentially, hanging around, in that way that kids have been doing for time immemorial.
Then my eldest got a new bike, and passed hers on to her sister. Now hanging around, calling for their friend, and investigating cats took on a whole new dimension – they could do it on their bikes.
Instead of going out straight after breakfast they started going out before eating at all. Arriving home from wherever we’d been each afternoon, the first thing they wanted to do was go out on their bikes.
TV, their first love, was being eschewed in favour of air and outdoors and cycling and playing. I had no idea something like this could even happen.
But most of all, the difference is in their relationship with one another. They’re a gang now. Giggling, hatching plans, linking arms. I’m transported back to the garden in Schull, and the realisation again that sisters truly can be friends. Perhaps now that they’re back to school, it’ll revert to how it always is – fights because someone’s elbow is too near or someone is singing in the middle of homework. But that’s OK, I’ve had another glimpse; another reminder of how it can be when they have time and space and air and common goals and bikes to cycle and mysteries to solve.