Okay, okay. Toby and Kara were never actually the worst of enemies, but they weren’t the best of friends either.
Their relationship has steadily improved over the past couple of years, though. And one of the biggest positives of the lockdown is the way their bond has strengthened, despite being stuck in each other’s company 24/7.
The boys’ club
Once upon a time, there were three siblings – two boys and a girl – each separated by a gap of two years.
At first, they all seemed so different: the pre-schooler, the toddler and the baby. But after a while, the similarities between them began to grow. At five, three and one-year-old, they occupied completely different orbits. But by the time they were seven, five and three, you could see the bonds forming. (At least, you could when they weren’t fighting over the iPad.)
At this point, it was Isaac and Toby who shared the closest relationship. They were both boys. (Come to think of it, they still are, but anyway.) They both loved cars. And Lego. They were in primary school together. Meanwhile, Kara was toddling around at nursery. She was all about Frozen rather than Top Gear. And while she was both a tomboy and a girly-girl in equal measure, she was definitely not-a-boy.
There was Isaac and Toby. And there was Kara. Toby looked up to his brother and down on his sister. And while Kara had a solid relationship with Isaac, Toby was just … competition. As a result, our youngest two didn’t exactly see eye to eye. Good old-fashioned sibling rivalry.
The balance shifts
We started to notice a significant shift while we were away on our summer holiday two years ago. By this point, the kids were ten, eight and six. Isaac was about to start his final year of primary school. He was asserting his independence and starting to distance himself from his younger brother. At the same time, the 27-month gap between Toby and Kara was no longer quite as big a barrier as it once was.
During that holiday, the dynamic between the three was more balanced than it has ever been, either before or since. Toby still clung on to Isaac’s coat-tails but he and Kara also seemed more at ease in each other’s presence. Particularly when Isaac was off doing his own thing, Toby eased more into the role of Kara’s big brother. They even walked along the street holding hands and shared a giant pretzel together.
Another key tipping point occurred last September when Isaac moved to secondary school.
For three years, they had shared their weekday routine. Same location; same timings; same dress code.
Now, their paths have diverged. Toby and Kara are only just out of bed by the time Isaac leaves the house. While they still have a seven-minute walk to school, Isaac takes an hour to travel to Reading. They are home in the afternoon at least an hour before he is. His new uniform sets him apart too.
As Isaac has moved on, it has served to emphasise Toby and Kara’s shared experiences. They talk about school, teachers and other kids. They share parents’ evenings and other events. 7:15-8:45 and 3:15-4:30 are Isaac-free times. It’s little wonder they have grown closer together. Their older brother is very much doing his own thing now. And the age gap between them is, in relative terms, smaller than ever.
Lockdown has separated Isaac …
The pandemic lockdown has confined the three siblings together for seven weeks now. One might think it would have brought them all closer together. In some respects, it has. But, in truth, it has reinforced the schism between Isaac and the other two.
Isaac has his own distinct daily rhythm. He has a set timetable. Every morning he disappears off to his room and logs into Microsoft Teams. He does his lessons, has calls with his classmates and emerges only briefly for lunch. From 8:30 until at least 3:00, he exists in his own bubble. Then, once his school day is over, he either goes out on a long bike ride or plays on the Xbox.
… And brought Toby and Kara closer
Meanwhile, Toby and Kara, no longer in different classrooms, spend their day in each other’s company. They study companionably together in the living room or in the semi-permanent den in Toby’s bedroom. Toby really looks out for Kara and she – usually fiercely independent – responds positively to that. They have even slept together in the den almost every night for the past three weeks.
More than that, though, Kara used to spend most of her non-school time away at gym, Brownies or martial arts. But now those activities are restricted to shorter Zoom sessions at home, she is a more integral part of our family evenings. That means more opportunities to play games, watch films or read together. Which, in turn, equals more bonding time with both boys, but particularly Toby. Where Isaac goes off on solo bike rides, Toby and Kara go out together with me or do something else themselves. That stronger bond is crucial in the absence of face-to-face time with other friends.
The net result is that lockdown has emphasised the gap between our eldest and his two siblings. And at the same time, it has pushed Toby and Kara closer together.
Lockdown has brought moments when we have all needed to escape from each other for a while. But it has also offered some unexpected delights. What used to be our most challenging sibling pairing has blossomed into the most harmonious. Long may it continue.