Pandora has had an impact on my parenting. Through the algorithms of the on-line listening site, a song I had never heard came to my ears. The words caused me to consider a failed relationship and how I could make amends through my own children.
The Picture, by Louden Wainwright III, is about a photograph of a brother and sister sitting at a card table coloring on paper. The black and white photo was taken when the brother was five and his sister four. In the song he is looking back forty years after the image was captured, reflecting on a lost time. As he reminisces he realizes that the simple scene reflects all that was important in his world at five years old; a time when concerns didn’t go farther than coloring within the lines and sharing with his sister. Forty years later that image is as compelling as it is heartbreaking because relationships are no longer that easy and life is much more complicated.
I have a picture like that of my sister and me. In the picture we are happy, sitting on a rock near the Atlantic Ocean, taking a break after we finished running on the beach. We were eight years apart and for a brief time in our lives we were inseparable. She would ride on my wagon while I delivered papers, we swam together in the lake near our home, and she looked up to her older brother in a way I really never deserved.
What caused us to drift apart I really can’t say; maybe it was when I left for college, but I think it was before that. Whenever it happened there is no relationship now. We rarely speak and our lives move in different places. Even if I tried I don’t think I could break through to discover what happened to separate us. It is not anger or animosity; it is lives that are so far apart the only commonness is our parents.
As I contemplate that relationship I look at my own children. They are four years apart and seem to be devoted to each other. They play, pick at, and tattle on each other. At one moment they will be coloring together at the dining room table, the next hitting each other, and then within minutes jumping off the couch in defiance of my protestations. They can be conspirators against their parents and enemies over a toy in a short span of time. But ultimately they come together and we make a family.
My concern is what happens years from now. What could my parents have done to stem the tide of separation between my sister and I? What can I do to encourage a continued, lifelong relationship between siblings? I have no answers to these imponderable questions. I just seem to plod along hoping I get it right without knowing how.
I try to find things that bind us as a family. We share a laugh when I say “have fun storming the castle”, both of them having seen The Princess Bride with me more times than we can count. We also share music and love to hear They Might be Giants sing Istanbul not Constantinople. “Why they changed it I can’t say, people just liked it better that way” is commonly sung on car trips.
Maybe it is as basic as that; as simple as the picture in the song. It is sharing the simple things in life and making them special to us. Maybe the glue I am seeking is in a shared laugh, a common experience or just a line from a movie. I don’t know, I’ll keep you posted.