“Old McDonald had a butt,” was the chorus coming from the back seat as we drove from Denver to St. Louis over Thanksgiving weekend. You pick your battles on a twelve hour road trip, and the four-year-old giggles resulting from my kids’ silly song were worth ignoring the potty humor for once.
I found myself smiling at both the song and how much fun the two of them were having together.
The long drive, our first as a family of four, gave me plenty of opportunity to reflect on the special relationship between our children. Our son Jonas came home over two years ago from Kyrgyzstan, while our daughter Johanna joined our family just ten months ago from China. Completely coincidentally, their birthdays are only five days apart, and our “twins” are the best of friends. It’s hard to imagine that one was ever without the other.
Bringing home a sibling for our son has had numerous benefits for both him and her. They have learned about taking turns, sharing items, and solving problems. A few days before our road trip, I went to the dollar store to stock up on little toys to dispense as needed to keep boredom at bay. Somewhere near the border of Colorado and Kansas, I handed out fold-up paper scenes. Johanna started with the castle one, and Jonas had the car shop, but they quickly worked out a plan to trade scenes after a few minutes and share the figurines. A small spat erupted over the coveted paper knight figure but, with assistance, they made a deal to take turns playing with it. The negotiation and problem solving skills learned from having a sibling will hopefully serve them well in the future.
After lunch off some highway exit in Kansas, Jonas put the McDonald’s happy meal box upside down on his head and shouted, “We’ve got a birthday back here!” Johanna put on her “birthday hat” too, and they sang several cheerful rounds of “Happy Birthday” in unison.
No, it wasn’t anybody’s birthday, but these two find ways to celebrate life together on a regular basis. On Halloween, he dressed as Peter Pan and she was Tinkerbell. She sprinkled pretend pixie dust on him, and they “flew” all around the neighborhood collecting candy.
Jonas congratulates Johanna for the latest piano song she’s mastered, and she tries to copy the latest moves he’s learned in martial arts class. Once I found the two of them playing downstairs in our closet, Jonas wearing my husband’s work pants and Johanna in my heels and a dress. They declared they were going on a “date,” and that the babysitter would be showing up soon.
Whether it’s enjoying holidays as a pair, rejoicing in each other’s successes, or creating their own parties, having a sibling makes every celebration more fun.
Near Kansas City, Jonas and Johanna put their fists together and recited the PJ Masks chant, ending with “into the night to save the day!” Lately, they have been obsessed with pretending they are Catboy and Gekko from this animated series. Before they saw a few episodes of that show, she was often Belle and he was the Beast. Sometimes he’s a knight and she’s a princess, or he’s “Daddy” and she’s “Mommy.” Or they are both kittens or construction workers or scuba divers or police officers.
Family members and friends often assume that I’m so much busier now taking care of two children than I was with one. Interestingly, the opposite is true. Jonas now has a full-time playmate! Their imaginative play is filled with costumes and creativity, and they’ll often entertain themselves for hours on end. Having a sibling is like being on a permanent playdate!
“Gym-nas-tics. Com-put-er. Kyr-gyz-stan,” I heard Johanna chanting quietly when we were about six hours from our hotel. She was practicing the words that Jonas has been working on pronouncing lately. Her sibling, the most outgoing and talkative one of our family, is probably the most responsible for her quick acquisition of English, as Johanna hears Jonas talk all day long. Unfortunately, he’s been “too good” of a teacher, and because she’s nearly caught up, she doesn’t qualify for speech services! Of course, she does make some of his articulation errors and grammar mistakes, as her sibling’s speech patterns are passed on to her. Having someone her own age unknowingly teach her a new language has helped tremendously. I’ll often find myself asking Jonas to explain something to Johanna in a way she’ll understand, and now I’ll even ask Johanna to translate for me what Jonas is trying to say.
“I’m mad at her!” Jonas pouted as we crossed into Missouri. Johanna had finished her puzzle before he had finished his, and he didn’t like coming in second place in the contest he created. Having a sibling has taught our children to realize the talents they possess and appreciate the skills of others (she’s kind of a puzzle whiz). His response, though indicative of his ongoing challenges with graciously accepting defeat, has come a long way.
As a family, we had very serious discussions before Johanna came home about accepting her as a sister and making her feel welcome and wanted. Once here, we had various other talks about why it’s not okay to say you want to send your sister back to China, even when you’re very angry.
Most of the time though, their love for each other is ridiculously adorable. There were multiple instances on the long drive when Jonas rhetorically asked, “Wanna know who my best sister is?” or simply stated, “Johanna, you are my favorite girl in the whole world.”
A few months ago, as she packed her bag to go to Chinese Heritage Camp for the weekend with me, Jonas came into Johanna’s room, handing her a necklace he had made of colored noodles strung on pipe cleaners. “In case you get a little sad at camp, this will help you remember me and how much I love you,” he declared. Johanna, our reserved and more hesitant child, is learning what love looks like and how to show affection toward her family because of her sibling. Upon waking in the morning, she immediately asks, “Where’s Jonas?” Without prompting, they pose for pictures with their arms around each other or giving each other kisses on the cheek.
As we arrived in St. Louis that night, our two very tired children jumped on the hotel bed together and collapsed in wrestles and giggles. Jonas and Johanna may have been born in different countries and on slightly different dates, but there is no doubt that these siblings were meant to be together in one family.
The evening ended with one last chorus of their revised “Old McDonald” song and a smile on all of our faces… “with a butt butt here and a butt butt there, here a butt, there a butt, everywhere a butt butt…”