When You’re An Only Child, Witnessing Sibling Fights Can Be Horrifying

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The first time I attended a sleep over, I was seven years old.

Unlike other parents, I remember my own not making a horrendously big deal out of spending the night at someone else’s house. There was the obligatory call where my friend’s mom talked to my dad, directions were shared, phone numbers were exchanged, and then I was told to pack my bag.

My elementary school BFF’s home was one that I already knew quite well. Having spent various summer afternoons lounging on her canopy bed talking about our American Girl dolls, I felt just as familiar with her house as I did my own. I knew where she kept her growing CD collection and that the last drawer in her bureau was full of oversized t-shirts — many of which I changed into after swimming in  her pool. I knew that she kept her butterfly clips in circular tin on her dresser and that the band aides in her bathroom always had strawberries on them.

But despite my comfort with her home, and her parents, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her younger brother. The little blonde tyrant who shared a room with my BFF was known to throw things when he didn’t get his way, as well as pinch and bite. He was only two years younger than us, but in many ways, I feared the shape his face would take when we told him we preferred to play by ourselves or that he wasn’t welcome in our corner. He never physically came after me the way he did to his sister, but not being accustomed to dealing with a biting sibling — or any sibling for that matter — I was often scared that he would.

At dinner the evening of our sleepover, I remember carrying on a polite “what do you girls have planned for the evening?” conversation withn my friend’s mother and stepfather. Twirling spaghetti on my plate, I mentioned films that I wanted to watch and my friend brought up the idea of doing board games. A comment was made at the other end of the table by the little brother — I don’t recall what exactly, and my friend responded in that contentious way that sisters do to their siblings. As their exchange became more heated, I remember looking to her parents to resolve the issue. Turning to one another with the beginnings of a new conversation, the adults  didn’t respond to the escalating fight that was occuring between their children. I remember the mother taking a sip of her wine as she nodded at her husband’s comment, her daughter’s voice reaching a new pitch as another insult was hurled.

As the only child in my home, I wasn’t used to seeing such behavior in other children. No one yelled in my home or called anyone awful names. Disagreements between myself and my parents were always handled with discussion in which no voices were raised. Even at school, yelling or fights between children were always intercepted by teachers who quickly administered a punishment of some sort.

Now, suddenly at a dinner table witnessing the biggest fight I had ever seen, I looked to the grownups to make it go away. My little heart quickened as my friend’s brother finally got up from the table and began hitting her. There was squealing and crying as both kids went to the floor, rolling about on the tiles as both parents calmly continued their conversation. Eventually the mother made some mild comment like “stop that, now.”

I remember my BFF crying profusely and running to her room, her brother following as their voices carried through the hall and eventually dulled behind slammed doors. Unsure of what to do, I simply kept eating, nervously chewing on asparagus and carrots. Within a few minutes though, my shock at witnessing a sibling fight was topped by something else. Both kids eventually resurfaced from their rooms. Coming back to the table, they picked up their forks and resumed eating — as if nothing had happened.