The Elusive Occurrence of Sibling Harmony
With my 4.5 year old Hazel in the family, it is someone (or something’s) birthday every day. Her play each day centers on planning, decorating, and mud pie baking for the big event, a party that somehow never materializes before bedtime. Recently, she became enamored with two real snails we found in my garden. Before I could secretly hurl them into our busy road, she adopted them, named them, made them a habitat, and then carried them with her the rest of the day. Naturally, it was their birthday.
My two older sons, usually pretty hard on their little sister, can't help but be sucked into the birthday plans. Maybe they think they’ll get cake; I'm not sure. They were clearly impressed with Hazel’s live snail companions that day, though they did express some concerns to me. “Mom: she’s going to forget, and they’ll dry up in her room. What if she crushes their shells? How is she going to keep them in that hat?” I was touched by their worry for the snails and was very pleased that they didn't take over but let their sissy care for those slimy babies. They seemed to have a respect for what she was trying to do.
Hazel did lose track of the snails after a couple of days. (I solemnly swear that I did not throw them in the street.) After the requisite time for mourning, Hazel turned her attention to a handful-sized ceramic snail nightlight. She even gave him the real snail predecessor’s name: Snailius. As luck would have it, that day was Snailius’ birthday and preparations were already underway by the time I got out of bed. Even the boys were excited, and all the children had a very thoughtful discussion trying to remember exactly how old Snailius was turning. They decided on 13, a very respectable age for any snail. He owed his large size and broken antennae/eyeball to his long years. I kept thinking of Mary and her little lamb because everywhere that Hazel went, the snail was sure to go. He even came to see Hazel’s new preschool classroom and wasn't nervous at all.
This morning, I bustled around straightening the main space of our open floor plan. Three children were coming over to play, two of whom were first-timers. I always hope parents will take my efforts at responsibility for my space as an assurance that I won't lose their children. Snailius had accompanied Hazel to breakfast. I heard her jump down from her stool, and then came the crash. I turned to see a pile of ceramic shards with an LED and a snail head in the middle. “Oh, Honey! Poor Snailius!” I cried. Hazel let out a squeaky sigh of sadness and stooped to gather the larger pieces. “Watch out for the sharp pieces, everybody,” I warned. “Poor snail, and right after his 13th birthday too,” offered my oldest son. “Sorry about your snail, Hazel,” said the other. I began sweeping. “You get all the little pieces, and I'll take care of these big ones,” Hazel directed in her weary, stuffy-nosed voice.
As we cleaned up Snailius’ gruesome remains, my husband and I exchanged sympathetic, poochy-lipped faces. My heart swelled with affection for my family. So often, the kids are downright evil to each other. I get exasperated by constantly making and cleaning up birthday party paraphernalia. Hazel can be bossy and annoying, and the boys are dismissive or antagonistic depending on their moods. But, watching the kids head down the stairs, one boy with his arm over Hazel’s shoulder, I saw the truth: we love each other.
R.I.P. Snailius. Your short life (13 ceramic snail years) inspired something as elusive as a pure white, jumbo snail: sibling harmony.