"She started it!"
"Get out of my room!"
"You're such a jerk!"
"It's not my fault! He always does this! It's NOT FAIR!"
How many times a day, does it seem, that I look over at my husband and wonder, "How in the world did all three of these kids come from the two of us? They are so completely different from each other!" On most days, it seems that they could be three kids we picked out of three different kid patches, completely foreign to each other, with no plans on ever "making friends". It's all I can do to keep from ripping my hair out!
I hear the words of my own father playing in my mind. "You only have each other. You are all you have in this world." These are the words my brother and I would hear every time we argued, yelled, fought. This is how my father would reprimand us. With the truth that Billy and I were each other's only siblings. That we only had each other. I could be wrong- perhaps Billy felt differently- but that never seemed to make anything better. It never seemed to make me like him more. He was still that bossy older brother. It was still not at all my fault. It was still completely unfair.
How did I get on this end of the situation? How am I the one now trying to clarify to my own children that they are each other's blood, that these three have to figure out how to get along before our house explodes in all the fighting?
And for the record, I know that I'm not the only one in this situation. Almost every time I mention this problem to friends, they respond with "Oh my goodness! Our kids too!" It seems that in every household with more than one child, those siblings learn very quickly how to bicker, and argue about everything. What's a parent to do???
As parents, we are very quick to throw up our hands in frustration, wondering how they don't see it. Our kids don't need to be best friends, but a slight change in perspective can make life so much happier! A little less bickering and our house would become such a brighter place. They'd hear so much less yelling from Mom (which they despise!), and they might actually have some fun together. And who knows? They might actually end up discovering that they have more in common than they thought they did. They might actually become friends!
I'm wondering... has anyone figured out where I'm going with this?
Just like in our home, I have become more and more frustrated with the way our community, and our country has been treating each other. It seems we are living in this house (albeit a rather large house made up of 50 rooms), with lots of siblings. Some of our siblings are of different colors. Some love differently than we do. Some live by a different faith. And we simply cannot see past those differences to see that we are siblings.
This past weekend, I was disappointed, and then infuriated, to learn that half a dozen more Jewish Centers had to be evacuated due to bomb threats, bringing the total number of threats to 154 (including Canada). I learned that another Islamic Center (this one in Michigan) was devastated by arson. I heard from one friend that the cemetery where her grandparents were buried was vandalized, and heard from another that the school that her children attend was defaced with swastikas. Acts of hatred are everywhere, and I'm tired of looking the other way, just because it's not happening to me.
Now I know I can't really compare the bickering between my kids to the complex issues that our country faces everyday, to the deep differences that I might have from my neighbor, or the guy down the street, or 600 miles away. I'm not naive here. But maybe, if we step back from our own lives for a bit, just take a look at things from a different perspective, we can see that maybe it is a bit like our children's bickering. Maybe it could be that simple.
I happen to be white. And straight. And a Jesus girl. And I live a few houses down from a dear friend and his partner. Many people would say that makes us completely different. Maybe. But what I see are two families of teachers, two neighbors who make me smile, who make where I live a better place- oh and who took care of my kids and me a few weeks back when crisis hit. My greatest concern when it comes to these friends is whether they know that I stand with them. Knowing and caring about them doesn't make me less of who I am. Knowing them just makes me a better me. And anyone who knows them would say that!
I also have a girlfriend who stood next to me when I got married, one of my bridesmaids and one of my dearest friends for almost 20 years now. She stood with me at our wedding, and I stood with her at hers. Between us we have seven kids, and we've done everything from coach to teach to run together. She is truly one of the best friends I've ever had. And she's Jewish. It's never been an issue with us. We've discussed our faith at times, but we respect each other and love each other. Not despite differing faiths, but probably because of it.
I'm not sharing this with you to tell you how open-minded and loving I am. I've definitely (DEFINITELY!) got my shortcomings! It's those around me who have shown me open-mindedness and love. Friends and neighbors who show me what it means to love those who are different, who believe differently than they do, who look different, who live different. I believe I'm a better person because of those people around me, those who showed me how to stretch myself, to come out of my comfortable little box, and love others. In doing so, I don't believe it has made me doubt my faith, or walk away from it. I actually believe it has in fact strengthened it.
I'm not suggesting that this is easy. Heck, I'm not suggesting that getting your own kids to stop fighting is easy! In fact, if anyone has any advice, I'm all ears! No, I'm not trying to say this is an easy fix. Nor am I suggesting that we all become one way, follow one path, love one way, or look one way. Not possible. And actually kind of "vanilla" if you ask me. I'm just wondering if it might be beneficial for us to actually see the differences between us all, and respect (and dare I say love) each other- differences and all.
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, to humble ourselves and consider others more significant than ourselves, to live (as far as it is possible) in peace with everyone. Likewise, the Torah speaks of loving and caring for your neighbor, both Jew and Gentile. And the Quran teaches about competing with each other in doing good, and to enter into peace. Peace is the cornerstone of many of our faiths. Peace is the ultimate goal of humanity. We can see the similarities in each other without losing our own personal way, without becoming less of our own selves.
A few years ago, I first saw this sign that said "COEXIST". And my initial reaction was to turn from that idea. What I believed was right, and what others believed was wrong. Whether that had to do with race, religion, sexuality, or politics. I mistakenly saw that idea as a threat. If I accept your differing faith, then I am betraying my own. If I see things your way, I surrender my way. If I see you, then I disappear.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The definition of the word COEXIST is simply to exist together in the same time and/or place. Knowing we are here together at this time. Seeing others in their differing ways has made me more. I am not betraying my beliefs by welcoming yours. I am not losing my faith by respecting yours. Instead, together we create peace, we coexist, and we create a better home. We love our neighbors, and we make a brighter place.
I'm not sure it will work, but I'm up for trying.
As for my kids coexisting? Well, I haven't really figured that one out yet. But my brother and I are great friends now, so there's hope... right?