Malkie Hirsch

By Malkie Gordon Hirsch

Today was National Siblings Day and I personally have always been a stickler for celebrating national days in some capacity.

On National Chocolate Day, I eat it, though technically it doesn’t have to be a national day for me to eat some type of chocolate. It is a health benefit, after all.

On Pi Day, I bake a pie (different pi but I’m terrible in math, so the baking variety will have to do).

And on National Siblings Day, it got me thinking about my siblings, my kids, and their siblings, and how being one in a family positively impacts one’s life.

I know that the relationship I have currently with my siblings looks very different than the one we had as kids—more like the relationship my kids have with each other at the present moment—but I also know that siblings are the greatest gift a parent can give their child, so my mantra for the last few years has been “this too shall pass.”

In addition to their collective love of sports, regular meals (plus snacks), and their constant need to order oodles of stuff on Amazon (I finally changed my password) my kids’ other favorite pastime is fighting. Sometimes when I hear them going at it in another room, and I voice my concern (or scream) they reassure me that it’s “play fighting.” What’s play fighting, you might be wondering? It’s fighting with the word “play” in front of it. Meaning, it’s actual fighting. There are movie quality sound effects coming from another room that would concern any parent—especially the mother (ha, that’s me). Mom will have to break up the fight using any and every threat she can think of in a moment’s notice. I’m a master at this, but a note to young moms: it takes practice. Start jotting down good threats when the kids are sleeping and you have a clear head, and you haven’t fallen asleep yet. It’s usually a two-minute window.

It’s going to end the way I predict it will, with door slams from one room and a crying kid(s) in another. At some point, I’ll ask them why and how this started out as fun and why they can’t instead read a book or do something wholesome like order more stuff they don’t need from Amazon. But then it takes me back to my youth and how this whole sibling fighting thing is a mesorah as old as time. Even biblical. The first two brothers created started with violence. And the rest of Bereishis doesn’t get much prettier, as far as sibling rivalries go.

Certain factors make it more or less probable that you’ll have a relatively calm household—gender birthing order, for example. Did you know the chances of having a relatively calm home depends on the order that your children are born? Apparently, I didn’t get that important memo. Note to all those future moms out there: have a girl or two first and sprinkle some boys in for good measure.

According to Frank Sulloway, PhD, author of Born to Rebel, there are certain sibling rivalry factors involved when having same gender children who are 1–2 years apart, and it makes for a more (ahem) lively household.

Having a girl/boy or the reverse order with children is your recipe for success. Also it ensures less broken furniture.

It would have been fun to survey a menu (Uber Eats for babies, perhaps) of when to have which child so that your kids wouldn’t count wrestling as one of their hobbies. When your boys are bookends and there are many years between them, there’s less of a chance that they’ll enjoy the occasional smack down. But when you have four boys consecutively in six years? My advice is to grab some popcorn and find a good hiding spot. Also, maybe insure your valuables and keep Hatzalah on speed dial.

I grew up as the oldest of six and I know we (mainly I) wreaked havoc on my mother’s emotional wellbeing from time to time.

“But Malkie, you’re the oldest and a girl!” What can I say? I broke the mold on oldest girls. You’re welcome.

I know how proud I’d be when she’d assume I was starting up with my siblings, but I’d be in the bathroom in the attic while my brothers would be fighting over which sports game to watch. I’d hear her call my name and knowing what she was expecting, I’d respond “I’m alone!”

End scene.

Another joy of siblinghood is the art of sharing a bedroom. (And by art, I mean warfare.) My sister and I shared a bunkbed for eight years, because the bedroom was so small that there wasn’t room for separate beds. I’m pretty sure we hated sharing that space, yet once we moved to a larger home and finally had our own rooms, she’d insist on me sleeping on her high riser when we first moved. We had been together for so long, that when the time was finally there, we weren’t ready to take it. We couldn’t sleep apart.

We did a lot of important bonding as sisters in that tiny room in our Brooklyn home. I once successfully removed most of the chewed-up bubblegum that had slipped out of her mouth into her hair as she fell asleep and only had to cut a little bit of hair that I’m pretty sure my mother never noticed (surprise!). There were many valuable lessons in how to share stuff without causing (lasting) harm to one another.

My three brothers were next door (a bunkbed and crib) and though I didn’t realize how difficult it had to be to put three different ages to bed in one small room, my mother managed that, too. Sometimes, when we were really lucky, they even all slept at the same time.

Seven of us shared one bathroom and years later, I’d laugh when thinking about how we’d all want to use the same bathroom in our new house that had five showers. I’ll tell you one thing: there was way less fighting with the one bath than there was when we upgraded to five. Go figure.

If you look up what the benefits are of having siblings, there are many skills that are learned in the early years of a person’s development. Empathy, patience, and there are many more.

The art of sharing (or temporarily stealing and totally intending to return the charm necklace but then forgetting where it went—honest Dini—I’m sorry) or learning how to negotiate. How to love unconditionally, as I’ve witnessed my siblings do in the last few years.

See, we grew apart somewhat, not contentiously, but moved on with our own busy lives, as expected at our various stages of adulthood. We’d still get together for occasions and the like, but for the most part, our lives were lived separately. All that changed after Moshe died. It was then when I realized how precious adult siblings truly can be. They took on a lot of responsibilities and continue to, in many ways. It was like a hard reset in our lives and a realization dawned on each of us, making us understand how sometimes the most unexpected things that happen in life can provide people with not only the sense of sadness from loss, but also a sense of gratitude and unity from the same experience. In my case, we came together and became closer than ever.

My brothers would come visit the kids more often. They’d volunteer to join my father for school events for my boys. They’d have talks with them that I never ever ever ever ever (did I say ever?) want to have.

They collectively filled in for a job that no one could possibly ever completely fill—but they did it, nonetheless, and though my boys might not realize it now, one day they’ll look back and understand how those moments were made way happier because of the presence of my siblings. And that yontif wasn’t quite as painful because my sister would invite us all to create new yontif traditions we hadn’t had in the past.

So all the sharing, patience, and resolutions we have to practice as siblings do pay off one day. In the moment, it’s hard to see how it’ll make any difference in one’s life, but at this point, with what we’ve been through as a family, with the knowledge that my brothers and sister would do just about anything for me and my kids, it’s clear that all the things we sacrifice as kids (space, having our own stuff, etc.) pay off tremendously. Because nothing is more valuable than relationships.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my siblings, and Moshe’s siblings, for being there for us in so many ways in the last few years. It’s because of their love and devotion to me and my kids that we’ve come through such a hard time in such a healthy way.

So to all those little kids and teens in the throes of disagreements and sibling rivalry, and the weary parents trying to mediate, take note: that will all pass. Sefer Bereishis is full of family conflict, but midway through Sh’mos, we emerge from Mitzrayim. That pain that forged us, as an entire nation standing as one person with one heart, unified by our common Father—brothers and sisters for all time, acheinu kol beis Yisrael. What remains after the first generation childhood bickering and growing pains is a lifelong love and devotion that never fades.

It’s the type of loyalty and connection that can’t be rivaled. Siblings are the people who have seen you in every life stage and choose to remain, regardless of how they might feel. It’s a closeness that might not always feel particularly close, but can change over time. I know this from being on the receiving end of that type of caring that it makes all the difference in the world.

To Yochanan (and Chani), Dini (and Eliezer), Dovi (and Mari), Nison (and Shayna), Nachi (and Shana), Shloimie (and Adina), Faygie (and Moti), and Chani (and Eliezer), thank you for all you’ve done and do. We love you!

Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.

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