The complex dynamic of the sister-sister relationship is one that fascinates me.  I come from a family of two girls.  I know first hand that your sister has the potential to be a closely valued friend….eventually.  But growing up, we were not immune to the suburban-survival of the fittest epidemic otherwise known as sibling rivalry.  It was like Lord of the Flies – with Barbies.

Let me begin with the disclaimer that I love my sister tremendously.  I would give her my favorite Lululemon tank top off my back if she needed it.  But I would be lying if I said that our relationship has always been smooth sailing.  About 30 minutes after bringing my sister home from the hospital, my mom claims that I turned to her and said, “Ummm, just wondering when this bitch’s baby’s Mommy is coming to take her home?”

A few hours of watching Animal Planet will tip you off to the fact that the fear of extinction is a primal quality.  The fear of “not enough”- whether it be food, love, or Polly Pockets -seems to be a universal concern of the animal kingdom.  I saw something once on the Alpine Swift, a native bird of Switzerland who build their nests under the roofs of clock towers.  When the Momma Alpine Swift brings worms or bugs or whatever to the nest, the baby Swifts get a little anxious there won’t be enough food and start to “nudge” each other for prime positioning. Sometimes one of the babies- the smallest, weakest baby- gets bitch slapped right out of the nest.

Not a good situation when your nest is built in a clock tower.

I think of the Alpine Swift every time one of my girls comes and sits in my lap. Yesterday, for example, as I was sitting on the floor matching socks, Emma comes over and sits in my lap. Phoebe, who until that second was immersed in the activity of trying on my shoes, is suddenly very alert to what she sees as a missed cuddling opportunity.  She marches over with her brow furrowed and fists pumping. She turns around and starts backing up into my lap like a delivery truck.  Then the struggle begins.  First they both burrow in deeper to my body…then they start the shoulder nudge…which leads to elbow jabbing…

Because of the bitch slapping tension I experienced with my own sister, I thought I was wise to the whole sibling rivalry gig.  I fashioned myself a Queen of Equality, overflowing with an abundance of love and attention for both my girls.  Until Emma went to camp…and Phoebe transformed before my very eyes.

Now Emma, God bless her, takes on life in full-frontal fashion.  She’s either Shirley Temple or Bride of Chucky – ain’t no in between.  Whatever her mood is, she likes to talk about it.  A lot. (“I’m feeling ANGRY because at camp Jill said she was going to swim with me, but then she swam with Delaney even though I gave her some of my pretzels and then…Mom?? ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME??”) The girl lacks an inner monologue. Phoebe, however, is more reserved.  Observant.  A bit of a late bloomer.

Or so I thought.

As of last week, Phoebe’s vocabulary consisted of about 18-20 words, not counting the blood curdling screeching that serves as her primary form of communication. Within the 10 minutes it took to drive home from Emma’s camp drop-off, I swear she quadrupled her vocabulary.  She literally could not get the words out fast enough:

Me: “Look at those dark clouds, Phoebe!”


Me: “Do you think it’s going to rain?”


This newfound verbosity continued throughout the day.  It was as if someone had flipped her “ON” switch and all the words that had been building up came pouring out.

And because I wasn’t preoccupied with Emma’s latest milestone or meltdown, Phoebe had a chance to stop and smell the roses, literally: “Oooooooooo!  Mommy!! Flowers! Pretty! Sniff Sniff!  Niiiiicccccee!”

And ask questions: “Whass dat?  Mommy, and whass DAT?  How ’bout DAT?”

You would think she just escaped a year of solitary confinement. So the realization (and subsequent guilt) set in, that here I am, good old Momma Bird, watching my baby bird get bumped out of the nest because my older baby bird won’t shut her beak.

But, in fairness to my first born, wonderful things come out of her beak.  Funny, charming, inquisitive chirps that make me laugh and melt my heart.  So I am left with the question.

Do we really have enough worms?  While one is getting fed, is the other getting bumped?

I choose to believe that we do have enough….although maybe not everyone can get “fed” at the same time.  Maybe you need to feed the bird who seems the hungriest that particular day (or hour) – the one who really needs it the most in that moment.  But what if you have one bird who ALWAYS screams the loudest, who consistently and dramatically claims to be the hungriest; if she doesn’t get THAT worm RIGHT NOW she will simply DIE of starvation?

You send her to camp.

Phoebe sampling Emma’s accessories

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