I have been in Europe for nearly 10 days — Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome. It is a whirlwind tour for my mother’s 75th birthday, a reunion for my sisters and mom and I since we are scattered across the country and haven’t all been together for going on a decade and we have managed to survive without killing each other.
That is a major accomplishment.
I love my family. I am concerned always for their well-being, and I wish them the best. And yet, when my oldest sister tries to suggest something we should all order for lunch, I turn into the bratty 7-year-old who digs her feet into the sand and won’t budge from the sandbox. How dare she tell me what to do? My middle sister suggests maybe I making a big deal out of nothing, and I sulk, like I used to in the closet of the room we shared, where I wrote in my journal about how no one understood me.
The best thing to do in these situations is to laugh at yourself, of course, but it often doesn’t seem funny. We lock into these little battles so early in life, and don’t let go of them. It feels like unstable ground if you are without those petty grievances after so long, like there is nothing to grip on to. But, of course, there is. It is called fresh earth, a new foundation from which to build new healthier relationships.
I try to advise my own children all the time to let go of their feelings about each other that seem so ingrained, the negative ones that cause them to lash out and slam the door closed against one another. It is so much nicer when they can leave that door open, when they can imagine that the things the other has said that are unkind have come in a flash of anger or envy, no doubt sparked by rivalry for mine or their father’s attention.
Siblings get locked in battles sometimes that seem untenable, yet on a beautiful trip, walking through ancient squares, standing in front of places like Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice or the Pantheon in Rome, sitting in the grass underneath the Eiffel Tower, it all seems so silly. Why do we cloud our consciousness with competition when it would be so much better for us all to win?
I bought a painting when I first moved to Park Slope, when my oldest was only 1, and an only child. It is a blue-and-purple-hued painting of two dogs beside one another, both with crowns, and it says, “Why Can’t We Both Be Kings?”
I fell in love with it immediately, and it hangs still in Eli’s room, a reminder to him and to his brother Oscar that the power struggle is unnecessary, that they both have the right to be leaders.
I see the painter, Jonathan Blum, all the time. I know that behind his kind sideways smile is a mind that truly understands what needs to happen. I know that he knows that we all need to let down our guard and get along, that we need to push back the feelings that we alone have to be the ones to decide if we want to live in a harmonious world, if we want to truly enjoy life and the company of others.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to see the world along with my sisters and my mother. It is a beautiful world, and the eyes with which I view it need to be unclouded, like the incredible blue sky that lies above me as I write this in Rome, on a little deck of an apartment in the Trastavere neighborhood, as seagulls circling above caw loudly to one another. I breathe out slowly, and let it go. I love my family, and that really trumps all. Everything else needs to wash away, like a leaf down the Tiber River in Rome.
That is the lesson I want to impart to my children.
Let it go, let things flow, and then you can concentrate on the fun stuff.