A Sibling's Perspective
I cannot imagine what it must be like to be our daughter. She has been born into a strange world. All her life she has been aware that she has a brother who is talented in a particular area, and this talent takes up a considerable amount of time and energy - time and energy which should be hers to spend. From as long as she can remember, whole days have been sacrificed to ballet. For two years she had to get up every Saturday and drive him into class - their mother used to work on Saturdays, so we had no alternative. She would then had to pick him up and wait around for several hours until we dropped him into his second class. Even with the bribe of Pizza for lunch, these days were painful, and we realised after a month or so that for her this schedule was untenable. Her entire day revolved around his schedule. We managed to find an alternative so that the only commitment required of her was getting up early and dropping him off on a Saturday morning; and for her that soon became irksome enough. Her Grandparents or her Aunt would come and visit and their visits sometimes also had a ballet-agenda. They often wouldn't be coming just to see her; but to watch her brother dance, and seeing her was just a lucky by-product.
I imagine that now he is away at boarding school, her life is even stranger. She has a brother, but only gets to see him at weekends. During the week he is oddly present and absent simultaneously - his presence can still be felt in how much of our time he consumes. We worry about him; we talk about him; sometimes we rant and we rage. And at a certain time, we stop doing whatever we are doing because we are expecting him to Skype. Those precious fifteen minutes with him mean everything to us; to her they are a something irritating interrupting the evening's flow. Her brother returns at lunchtime on Saturday. He is her favourite playmate - such is their bond that they become inseparable immediately. A side of her lights up with him in a way that we perhaps don't see during the week. She buzzes with stories: the type of chicken she hates was served up at dinner; her class won a prize for good behaviour; a teacher made a throw-away remark which now deserves repetition. We learn more about her during these conversations than at any other time. She seems yielding, expressive and soft. This is when I am at my happiest. Even when stuck driving in impenetrable traffic, or doing the washing up, if I am listening to the children share their perspective of life with one another, I am joyful. In the context of their sibling relationship, she has a place and her identity again makes sense. For her, he has always been present: laughing with her; building worlds on Minecraft together; discussing life's mysteries. She doesn't really know of a world without him ... until now. How can any of this make sense to a six-year-old? I often confess I struggle to reconcile myself with the loss. As you know, I've found it tough, and I'm forty-five. The ground for her must be constantly shifting: a part-time only child whose favourite companion often seems to have better things to do. Her behaviour sometimes indicates that she can't find stable ground. She has a habit of clinging on to people or places - this is the only way she can steady herself.
She has only ever referenced her feelings of loss, once. She was talking about him leaving so early in the morning on Mondays: 'And then he's gone ... while I'm still asleep. I don't even get to see him'. That was all. She is not a child who speaks easily about her feelings.
We have tried to ease the hardship, but I fear that owing to the fact that - like a sparkly black hole - ballet consumes all around it, we have not done enough. I don't think she always feels as looked-after as I would like. We point out how she is unique: she is witty and sharp; she has exceptional powers of observation, and makes searing insights; she appears to be a natural swimmer; she functions at a very high level of energy and charming people has manifested itself as her superpower. She has a tremendous capacity for enthusiasm and she is passionate about several things: sweets, her favourite television shows, kindness to animals, roast potatoes. We try to guarantee that her experience of a life next to the radiance of her ballet brother is not one of an all encompassing dancing shadow. She is too bright and funny.
A couple of weeks ago, she asked if she could try ballet. I took her to a trial class with every intention of making it a weekly commitment if she wished. She emerged from the class indifferent. She'd had a good time, but felt no need to go again. A new ambition has arisen - she has decided she is going to be a gymnast, and represent Britain in the Olympics. She is starting classes soon. I'll let you know.