A strange phenomenon has taken place in our home since Kurt returned from his ‘finding himself’ tour.
Sadly, I’m not here to tell you that a miracle took place and our boy found God, turned to sobriety, become a believer in no sex before marriage and hard work being the key to happiness.
But… some signs of maturity have surprised us.
My children are sort of getting on at the moment, even talking to one another on rare occasions.
So, ‘talk’ might be a bit of an over-excited, ever-hopeful mummy exaggeration, but they spar now, which is the start of interaction in my book.
Theirs has never been an easy relationship. Three years apart in age – yet in reality at least six years apart in maturity – that gap has felt enormous at times. Add Kurt’s life choices, general craziness and misadventures to the equation, (which have impacted the whole family and put NC’s protective defences on alert) and the outcome that theirs is a forced, distrusting relationship.
You can’t choose your family.
When one child has special needs, their siblings become unwilling witnesses to the effect that those needs have on their parents’ relationship, on their health and happiness, and although we see positive signs of improvement in Kurt’s behaviours, NC’s wounds in particular may take a while to heal yet.
Of course, Kurt being Kurt, our son has already forgotten what went on in the past, so he approaches their relationship like everything in life, impulsively, head first, ‘bull in a china shop’ style, desperate to seek her approval but going about it the completely wrong way by battering her ego, knocking her confidence, and prodding at her open sores for attention.
Then he gets hurt when like a Funnel Web spider she rears up and retaliates.
Verbally, there is no contest between them. Few possess the razor sharpness of NC when riled. Even the old man and I quake in our boots when she has been activated.
But that is how siblings are supposed to behave, isn’t it? Part of their growth is to battle, to compete and challenge each other. It’s how they mould and shape each other. It’s how kids learn much of their life skills – how their skin thickens, how they learn the techniques of verbal sparring, negotiation and how to compromise.
So I’m grateful for this breakthrough. For a while there, I couldn’t see beyond Kurt and NC being adversaries, imagined some day them being reunited on some cheesy reality tv program, twenty years after we’ve gone.
Actually, that would never happen. NC would never go.
Last night we had a family discussion about politics over dinner. Neither stormed out.
I’ve mentioned before how like chalk and cheese my two offspring are.
One is going to be an ambassador for climate change and studies rocks out of choice (!) whilst the other is going to become an international rock star.
And because they are chalk and cheese in both interests and personality (as well as certain neurological conditions), they rarely communicate. NC is three years older than Kurt, and as girls are far more mature than boys, in reality there is approximately nine years of maturity between them.
Occasionally you might hear them exchange a ‘fuck off’ or ‘get out of my room’ but that is usually the extent of their relationship, like a lot of siblings I imagine.
But last night, family history was created when the two of them collaborated for the first time.
You see, NC is rolling in money at the moment, after scoring this great job in a local bar where the tips seem particularly generous. SUSPICIOUSLY GENEROUS!. I’ve been meaning to check out exactly what goes on in that bar for a while now, but unless they talk dirty in the language of geology, I don’t think I have too much to worry about.
Kurt, on the other hand, is completely broke at the moment because we’ve made the tough love decision to block all his financial resources until he spends his money more responsibly – I’ll leave you to work out what he has been spending it on, but suffice it to say, (and most of you know Kurt), it’s not Coke and lollies.
So yesterday, after I had one of those irrational, menopausal outbursts about the state of the pig pen at the back of the house that is NC’s room, (that would be just after I had trodden on the plug of her hair straighteners and spotted a mouldy Big Mac on her desk), she decided that she needed to appease me.
Her brother, for all his loveable faults, has one very handy little co-morbidity with his ADHD – he has just enough OCD which means that in general his bedroom is as tidy as a hotel room. He is also paranoid about cockroaches and has been known to break the Olympic record for high jump if one dares to enter our abode.
So big sister summonsed little brother into her room. Actually, he stood at the door, holding his nose and turning white while she explained her plan.
In short, she would give him $15 if he tidied her room.
He had to think about it, of course, but his addiction to nicotine sugar eventually overcame his fear of mould, rancid fruit, vintage water bottles and girl germs and within five minutes he had agreed.
There were a lot of retching noises to come out of that room during that half an hour but eventually we all heard the comforting sound of the vacuum and we knew that Kurt had earned his money.
I have obviously passed on some valuable life lessons to my kids. Kurt has finally learnt that you do need money to survive and that learning how to vacuum is a plus for appeasing the opposite sex, (before you get discovered and become a famous rockstar) and NC has honed the managerial skills she has been working on her parents for years.
Sibling rivalry can be a bitch when we’re growing up, although it does serve some purposes.
It toughens us up, prepares us for personality clashes that we may have to deal with later in life, and generally metamorphoses into lifelong familial friendship.
Sometimes, however, it can be a battle reaching the good part, the phase when we finally reach the maturity to let go of all that jealousy, competition and pervading angst.
I was always quite envious of the super-intelligence of one of my sisters, but I console myself with memories of terrorising her with creepy-crawlies when we were younger. I justify those times as preparing her for the perils of wildlife. She may be a lawyer one day, but she’ll still be a scaredy lawyer who is terrified of bugs.
Needless to say, she has never been to Australia.
Even without the complication of ADHD, Kurt and NC* have always been very different in terms of,… just about everything.
Somehow, when the DNA and chromosomes were getting it together in utero, they created two starkly different embryos.
One turned out to be a scientist in the making and one a potential inmate of Her Majesty’s Service rock star.
It never ceases to amaze me how two parents can create such polar opposite offspring.
NC, our potential scientist, has excelled in almost everything she does – although she certainly had a hyperactive bitch switch for the first ten years of her life, still can’t sing or keep her bedroom tidy. She worked diligently through school towards her HSC and has just completed her first exams at uni.
Our potential rock star, Kurt, has lived through education the only way that true rock stars can – by avoiding it and farting in the face of its rules as much as possible.
So why is it that the stories surrounding the budding rockstar and the shenanigans of his non-conformity are much more interesting than the ones about NC, her rocks and achievements?
Because everyone loves a rogue. Buried deep within our psyche is a secret desire to be brave enough to buck the system too, to spit at conformity, take risks and live life on the edge.
Although it’s not always the case. There is a wonderful story that Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, tells when asked about how proud his parents are of him. Apparently, a fellow guest once asked his father at a dinner party what his two sons did for a living.
‘One is a merchant banker and one is the lead singer of an international band,’ he replied.
‘Which bank?’ asked the guest.
Anyway, NC’s nose is a little out of joint at the moment. She feels, (justifiably), that Kurt gets all the attention and that her achievements go unnoticed.
Kurt doesn’t only get attention for his music. Many of you will know if you read my blog that we have been living on a knife-edge this past few months, as we wade through puberty with an ADHD son.
But we’ve all felt what NC is feeling right now. We’ve all been irked by the sibling who commands more attention.
The truth is that Kurt does receive a lot of attention, and if I’m honest, the old man and I do take NC’s success for granted. Each time that Kurt gets into his latest scrape at school or commits his latest crime challenging every manual ever written about teenagers, our consolation is – ‘well at least we have NC!’
But we probably don’t tell her often enough.
Unfortunately for NC, rock music is just far more glamorous than rocks.
When Kurt sings I do become impassioned, because music has the ability to reach into our souls, especially when it emanates from such a tortured soul. When NC tries to talk about thrusters or momentum with me, my eyes glaze over and all I can think about is sex.
Indulging Kurt’s passion is just easier. It involves fun things like going to gigs and perving on hot young musicians; indulging NC’s passion involves museums (yawn!), formulae and pretending to be more intelligent than I am.
I really want to share her passion, but it’s just not within me to be that mature. I’m a creative not a scientist.
Whereas I can pick out a good song or lyrics that inspire me, I still can’t explain gravity other than by using my boobs as an example.
I’ve always been much better at dumbing down.
And it hurts to know that NC is fundamentally disappointed in me.
What she doesn’t understand is that rocks and rock music might be like chalk and cheese, but diversity is what makes life interesting and fulfilling.
I haven’t decided whether my teenagers are simply not interested in food, or just MY food .
Nerd Child has been fussy about food since she was force-fed her first solid at the age of five months, where from deep within the recesses of some internal quality control system her bodily response to lumps was decisively negative. In fact no lump was to pass down her oesophagus for the first five years of her life.
Fortunately, her taste buds have evolved with time, (a little), although they are still distinctly immature and distrustful of my cooking. Irritatingly, now that she is a scientist in the making, she has also begun to apply her newly acquired research and dissection techniques to my culinary creations.
The description of my cuisine as ‘creations’ is obviously a hyperbole. I’ve documented the family’s preference for uninteresting, ‘bland’ food in several posts; this is a family that would dine exclusively chez Ronald Macdonald if I allowed them. When Masterchef airs in our house and the contestants whip up wonderful gourmet delicacies, the utterances range from ‘ewww’ and ‘gross’ to ‘how could anyone possibly eat that sh*t?’ from the philistines in my house.
The ADHDer struggles between several conflicting issues when it comes to food. He is a growing boy in his teens, and at this developmental stage of his life should have that insatiable need to inhale food, but unfortunately his appetite is suppressed by his ADHD medication, so enticing him to eat anything ‘healthy’ during the twelve hour cycle of his meds is a daily challenge. There are also the added complications of neophobia and sensory over-excitability with new food, texture and smells, as well as the anxiety caused by mixing food groups on the plate.
These concerns reduce the number of meals that he will engage with enthusiastically. The simple question of ‘what’s for dinner?’ therefore evokes panic in my kitchen, especially because Nerd Child is not a fan of any of the three meals that the ADHDer has expressed a preference for, all of which comprise of mashed potato, peas, sweet corn and some sort of pre-packaged protein. Nerd Child detests mash and thinks that peas are the Devil’s food.
Funnily enough, junk food is not subjected to the same scrutiny as my cooking, and I am ashamed to admit that my son’s physical growth is being built on a foundation of Fruit Loops and hot chips.
This is how dinner fared last night.
I had decided to make a curry, (obviously by ‘make’, I am in fact describing the complicated cooking technique of opening a Patak’s sauce jar).The ADHDer is hyper-focusing on Naan bread at the moment so I figured that he might forget about the sly slab of protein I usually try to disguise on his plate, if I concealed it under a pile of bread. Forced into a tight corner because I only had chicken in the fridge, I chose to ignore the fact that Nerd Child detests Indian due to strength-of-flavour issues.
She is eighteen now, an adult, and has proven that she is more open to experimentation (in certain key areas of her social life), I justified, and as it was a mild Korma, (only one chilli on the label so not too spicy, no suspicious lumps and of an acceptable creamy texture. I was also using chicken breast so there was no bones, fat or sinew for them to wretch over), I thought it might be safe from her savage scrutiny.
The preparation was not as straightforward as I had assumed it would be. I was obviously nervous at the prospect of trying to ‘get one over’ my daughter. Evidently, NO meal is simple enough for me not to fuck up.
Having grated most of my nails into the carrot, one of the Naan breads then nose-dived straight down into the internal machinations of the toaster and refused to pop back up. Forgetting that the new toaster had been cheap, (the previous one having died that week, fusing the garage door at the same time in its final throes, which in turn fused our garage door just as I was reversing out; meaning I was stuck until one of our ‘parents’ explained to us what and where the fuse box was), hence the smart stainless steel outer shell had become dangerously hot in the Naan-burning process, so when I lifted it up in frustration to try to eject the bread, scalding both palms in the process, I let rip of a long list of expletives that even the old man hadn’t heard before.
So I was already rattled when Nerd Child, without any consideration for the repercussions of her actions, began physically dissecting the chicken in full view of my other food critic, and suddenly shouted in disbelief, ‘MUM! THIS CHICKEN’S GOT FAT ON IT!’
I watched the ADHDer stop chewing mid-mouthful and Princess Spoodle begin licking her lips under the table.
I watched my son register the information and saw the fear set in.
FAT ON THE CHICKEN! GOD, NOOOOooooo! (How my children would survive living on the streets, I have no idea). I watched my son frantically push the chicken to one side of his plate and attempt to control the first wretch that was building in his stomach, whilst throwing me a disgusted, ‘how could you?’ look. I could see Nerd Child settle in for the battle ahead.
‘There can’t be any fat on the chicken, darling; it’s breast,’ I said soothingly, stroking the ADHDer’s hand gently to calm his building anxiety, whilst lobbing my best death stare at the witch opposite.
‘What’s that then?’ she smirked at us, triumphantly holding up what was obviously a very substantial piece of sinew in front of the ADHDer’s face. I watched him begin to turn white.
This was not about the chicken at all. Her behaviour was blatant revenge for the ADHDer waking her up that morning before 11am when she had a hangover, revenge for taking her earphones to school without asking and for devouring ALL her precious Turkish bread in one sitting.
This was sibling warfare.
‘In fact, I might be able to see some MOULD on it too,’ she carried on, viciously, as her brother gagged, ‘and I’m pretty sure this chicken was not washed properly….’
At which point the ADHDer pushed his chair back hurriedly and rushed to the bathroom to wash out his mouth, take his fourth shower of the day, and sate any residing hunger pangs with four ‘safe’ Up N’Gos from the emergency stash under his bed.
Nerd Child grinned at me victoriously. I sought solace in a bottle of wine.