When Opposites Distract
As the girls get older everyone keeps telling us what great personalities they have. What characters they are. Starlight is fearless and will attempt anything at least as many times as it takes to get an Ouch (and sometimes more times). Sunshine, with her boundless imagination (and vocal endurance) regales with tall tales and mysterious stories of what happened in school or made-up rules regarding the vagaries of her life’s activities (for example, visiting a shopping centre, relatives house, or swimming pool) and why they are important.
But those who call them great personalities – they know nothing. They know nothing of the tortures we face after the front door closes! When the lights go out, then back on, and then out again, then back on again – because one (or both) climbed up on the couch, found the light switch and is switching it.
Starlight has entered the terrible twos, while Sunshine is starting to plan her escape to independence. In them, we see our own characteristics (as all us parents like to do). But those characteristics are of such a concentration, it can be difficult, like a fairground mirror that exaggerates the minutiae of what it reflects. All skewed and strange looking, yet somehow recognisable.
Starlight can spend hours in silent destruction. You will not hear a crash or bash as a stash of something falls to the floor. When there is no sound, you can be sure wherever Starlight is, there is stuff, all over the floor. Many times, much of whatever it is, is broken.
She is also quite the explorer. Like Dora, but more interested in small, fragile things and paperback books and letters that can be torn and discarded somewhere strategic, where a large lumbering parent will not see, but will be sure to feel as they step on said object.
One night, Starlight – with the help of Sunshine – dislocated her shoulder by trying to get dragged up onto a bed, being pulled only by her arm. Aside from the odd wail here and there, she was just quiet. We took her to a doctor who expected more pain in a dislocated shoulder. So, the doctor suspected nothing major had happened and suggested waiting to see what happened and gave us a letter for the hospital in case things hadn’t improved in the morning.
In the morning, things hadn’t improved, so we took Starlight to the hospital where a nurse deftly twisted and replaced the errant shoulder in the amount of time it took me to park the car. They said we should wait 30 minutes to make sure the shoulder didn’t dislocate again, so Starlight set about destroying the toys in the children’s department, while Sunshine recited new and strange rules about playing with toys in the children’s department of a hospital. Soon, the doctor came out and said “Yes, the arm is moving fine… I think you can go…”
Sunshine comes up with new rules all the time, and explains them to us: “Daddy, when it’s time for bed, but you’ve been very good, you can have a lollipop because that’s what you do when you’re good?” (It’s a sort of laying down the law but also asking what the law is). She feels the need to be in control. She has become the boss, a prison warder to Starlight’s rebel without a clue. I hear my own bellow as Sunshine – clearly at the end of a tether she associates with the authority of parenthood – tells Starlight to “tidy up” or “stop doing that” or even (once or twice) “Just Be-HAVE!”
Starlight usually ignores her. Sometimes she fights back, smacking or whacking or throwing some kind of soft, stuffed missile at her sister. If reported, she will look up with a face that says “Yes. Yes, I did do that. I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it.” There is no questioning here – it’s a sort of flaunting the law without even caring what the law might be.
Yet Starlight’s silent tornado of mischief tears through the house accompanied by a strange and serene kindness (which must come from her mother). When someone is upset, she will arrive with a cuddly toy for them. Even if it is Sunshine, who might be crying as a result of some theft or assault at the hands of her sister (who she is not allowed to hit back, because her sister is too small).
Mostly, they get on in a sort of yin/yang fashion (if yin and yang were less round and symmetrical and peaceful and more jagged, chaotic and fun).
They make up their own games. My favourite is the Flower Game, in which we stand on a tile in our kitchen (a specific tile, one of the decorative square yokes in the middle of a square formed by the meeting of four plain tiles), and then await instructions from Sunshine. Instructions are always “OK, go like this…” “Then this…” each statement accompanied by some gesture or exercise (jumping jacks, touching toes, etc.). I don’t want to imagine what the wiggling of a midsection on a dad with too much midsection is like. Starlight will be jumping and skipping and trying to follow the rules, but never quite managing to. Sunshine gets angry and tells her she has to do it right. I hear my own words coming from her mouth as she does. Hearing yourself in high-pitch is one thing, but when a four-year old recreates your tone and body language you know you’ve become both predictable and obvious. I tell them they have to calm down, but often my pleas are met with gurgling drain of children’s laughter at the absurd notions of their parents.
Another is mummies and babies, where Sunshine is mummy, and Starlight is baby and they do things like go shopping and shout at each other and cry. Any intervention is met with the laughter as mentioned above. “Silly daddy! This is a GAME!” In my humiliation, the only “win” I can get is to start learning the sounds of their fake cries. This will come in handy, I am sure.
So different, yet so similar. As a parent, one sees that you have to deal with them according to their different personalities and outlooks on life.
And yet, both of their windows will probably be nailed shut in later life.