A few evenings ago, I attended a cookout hosted by a good friend. As we were finishing our meal, my friend's two darling daughters were amiably chatting with us all when Katie suddenly made fun of something Emily had said. Emily, who is three years younger than Katie, then retorted with a heated, vehement, and seemingly long-withheld “Shut up, Katie!!”
Now, this type of thing isn’t that uncommon. Siblings do bicker and bash at each other as they traverse the family terrain, trying to find a place for themselves. What makes this incidence a bit more unusual (and a lot funnier) is that Katie is 34 and a married mother of one, and Emily is 31 and in graduate school.
I wasn’t surprised though, as similar flare-ups happen any time my family is together, and my own kids are 36, 34, and 26. Although I continually assure each of them that I love them best and remind them not to tell the others, they still act like, well, like children, when we are all together. They tell me they are fine with neither their father nor I in the room, so it’s obviously the parents and not the kids who are the problem.
I remember my mother telling me that the optimal age difference in siblings is three years. That's probably because that's the rate at which she birthed my brother and me. According to my mother's rule, Melissa and Billy, my first two, were born too close together and poor Molly was so far behind, some people forget that there ever was a third Talbert kid.
There's been all sorts of research on siblings and birth order, but I have my own theory. I believe if everyone were first born, we would certainly accomplish a lot, but we'd also have an exponential increase in wars, along with a veritable pandemic of hostile buyouts and acquisitions. The problem with birthing only first borns might explain the issues the rest of the world has with China, situations solely caused by its one-child policy.
If the world were made up of only last borns, nothing would ever get done, other than an increased proliferation of stand-up comedy, minimalist art, and blogging. Last borns tend to be sidewinders who would perfect the notion of doing their own thing if it wasn't just too much trouble. I am a good example of a last born.
Middle children? These peacemakers just might save us all if they could possibly extricate themselves from the center of their own family's issues.
I guess it's a good thing that accidents happen to all families (except in China) and that we can't always predict which offspring will arrive when. As science gets closer and closer to allowing people to perfectly engineer the genetic make up of their children, I hope we remember this.
But then again, maybe it's the learning to deal with a sibling, or a cousin or perhaps a second-grade classmate, even if the little pain in the ass was created from carefully-selected egg and sperm donors, that prepares us all to have the skills, wherewithal, and stamina to survive in the adult world.
So, a "Shut up, Katie!!" from a 31-year-old little sister probably isn't such a bad thing after all.