So I open the front door and yell, ‘Yoo hoo,’ to nobody in particular, ‘Rob’s home.’ Mr V is at work, so obviously no response from him. My step-daughter Rianna is not visiting, so ditto. There is a creaking noise from the landing. The sound of the dog hauling herself out of her basket. It goes on for a bit. The hauling that is. The dog is getting on in years and her waistline gave in to middle age spread years ago. Eventually there is a thud as all four paws finally connect with the landing. Seconds later the dog makes a lethargic appearance and dutifully wags her tail at Robbie. So where is the youngest? I peer up the stairwell. Eleanor’s door remains resolutely shut.
Now at this point perhaps I should mention Robbie is nearly 19. He’s a young man. Independent. Screamingly clever. Motivated. An A* student who knows exactly where he’s going in life. Whereas Eleanor, 14, has freedom hampered by her age, is clever but lazy, and not particularly motivated unless you mention words like ‘shopping’ or ‘Harry Styles’ (who she wants to marry one day). Is it any wonder therefore that Eleanor is jealous of her brother.
I knock on her bedroom door and tentatively go in. A sullen face regards me from behind her laptop screen. ‘Yes?’ she asks curtly. ‘Your brother’s home,’ I say. ‘Yes, I heard you,’ she snaps. There then follows a little chat about the vagaries of being civil, saying hello, making conversation to a family member who now only has his big toe in the family nest. ‘Why should I say hello first?’ Eleanor demands. Does it matter who says hello first? Apparently so!
In due course Robbie finds his sister and says hello. ‘Hello,’ I hear her mutter. As he turns his back to walk away I catch my daughter apparently bowing down to Mecca (in Robbie’s direction) and worshipping the floor. But her facial expression is not one of adoration. I pretend not to see.
I cook dinner and we eat altogether. This in itself is a rare event. Mr V is still not home from work and if we waited for his arrival frankly it would be bedtime. Usually Eleanor takes her meal to the kids’ room to watch ‘documentaries’. For this read ‘reality programmes’. And I take my plate off to my computer where I bash out a few hundred words between mouthfuls. By the time my meal is finished it is always stone cold. As we sit down at the table Eleanor’s lip curls into its familiar teenage expression. ‘I always know when my brother is home because napkins appear and we sit up at the table.’
By the time dinner is served a spat is in full swing. Finally Robbie snaps. ‘Just what is your problem?’ to which Eleanor rumbles, ‘You, oh favourite child!’ It’s only when I threaten to make free with roast potatoes and collapsing broccoli that the two of them become silent. ‘I have no favourites,’ I tell Eleanor firmly, ‘you are both unique and amazing people who I love dearly.’ To which Rob smiles and Eleanor sneers.
In due course I clear up and the two of them disappear upstairs. As I load the dishwasher every single nerve within my body is on full scale alert. When will they kick off again? I hear noises. Gentle at first. Then rumblings. And then the sort of din that has me abandoning everything and hot footing up the stairs two at a time. I fling open my son’s bedroom door ready to break up World War Three.
But instead a joyful sight greets my eyes. The noise they are generating is one of happiness. My children are sitting companionably together on the edge of Rob’s bed, half watching a funny clip on You Tube but also gabbling about university life, school life, teasing and taking the Mickey out of each other, gossiping about their friends, telling jokes, roaring with laughter and generally behaving like they are two long-lost best friends.
I guess this is what sibling rivalry is. A mixture of both loathing and love. But right now it’s love. Long may it last...