The most infamous of infamous stories in our family arsenal of family stories has to be the Fingernail Story. Josh and I were about eleven and thirteen and washing the dishes. I handed him my freshly washed frying pan to dry, soapsuds sparkling in the kitchen light, but he soon returned it to me.
Him: It’s not clean.
Me: well, it’s as clean as it’s gonna get, so just dry it.
Him: but it’s not clean.
Me: look, I’ve tried, but I can’t get it any cleaner. I think it’s a stain, because the scourer won’t take any more off.
Him: It’s still not clean.
Me: Yes it is!
Him: no it’s not.
Me: Yes it is!
Him: Jess. Look. I can get it off. with my fingernails.
Thus we blew into a heated argument, not about whether the blooming frying pan was clean or dirty, but whether a fingernail is a suitable method of cleaning dishes. In my expert opinion, It’s a fingernail. It contains who-knows-what underneath it, it touches who knows what, and it’s this weird piece of hard something attached to my body that has never made its way into the various cleaning books I had read in my tender youth (and I’d read a few). There was no question of its eligibility to clean our frying pan. Besides, I didn’t like cleaning frying pans. It was time for bed.
In Josh’s male-derived opinion, however: if it works, use it. It obviously isn’t a stain because, well, there are methods available to us that removes the aforementioned dirt. He didn’t care on the legality, suitability, cleanliness, or normality of the tool used to remove the jolly stain. It works. Besides, this is a matter of keeping the world black and white; heaven forbid there be a grey area in the kitchen. He likes a good argument anyway; this was fun!
It has taken me many a year to humbly admit that fingernails probably, possibly could maybe work to get the stubborn off a dirty object. Just this morning I used my fingernail to scratch a something off the kitchen cupboards, and the sky didn’t seem to fall down. But the argument, now a funny story of the past, is somehow the story mentioned whenever we think about the Letchford kids’ relationships. Go figure!
People notice that my siblings and I get along really well. We pray at each other’s birthday parties, we comment on each other’s Facebook walls, we joke with each other in public, and we hang out together. (We even snap selfies together, and not just when we’re on holidays). We get along really well and we sincerely like each other.
But to be honest, as much as I’d like to say that growing up we were cherubs who always preferred each other, never smirked at each other’s mistakes, and were always beyond willing to help each other out, we have a dozen Fingernail Stories. That argument probably lasted near half an hour, and that would be a shorter one of many arguments! We hit, screamed at, and hurt each other lots growing up. We have had to fight tooth and nail to get this close to each other as we are now, and we are still working on areas of our friendship like any normal person would.
So here are the things we think helped us as siblings get to where we are now.
- The expectation was always there to be best friends with each other. We didn’t really have any other option; we had to get along. Mum and Dad constantly pulled us up, corrected us, trained us and expected us to get along with each other just like we would if they weren’t our siblings. After a while, us kids decided for ourselves that we wanted to have that sort of relationship with each other too. Really, we knew we loved each other deep down. We got along some of the time. So it was just a matter of making that ‘getting along some of the time’ happen more often.
- We spent time together. This is kind of ironic; you hate each other’s guts, so mummy dear sends you outside to not kill each other for thirty minutes. Every. day. When you’re finished that, you come inside and pile onto the one couch while you were read a story and then you had half a table each to not wobble or bump each other with while you did your school work. When THAT was done, sometimes mummy dear made you play Yahtzee or other board games to enjoy each other’s company, and at the end of such a day, you went to sleep sharing a room with, you guessed it … a sibling. Somehow you have to get along with each other in such situations, and as you do, I think you find that you can have fun together and it doesn’t become so hard after all. It also helped that these situations were supervised and given boundaries, so we could succeed at being in each other’s presence without killing our chess partner.
- We saw the logs in our own eyes. Yes that person was annoying, and no I don’t know why the person has to act in that incredibly frustrating way, but I know full well that I present some major contributing problems to the tension. It takes two to tango.
- The things that annoy me about them are no different to the things about me that annoy them. I can find my laid-back, spur-of-the-moment, artistic sister frustrating at times, but she might also struggle to keep up with my detailed plan for the next two weeks that automatically sees down the flaws in her creative ideas. Kind of related to point three, it helps to know that it’s not just about them, but me as well.
- We grew in character. As our relationship with God and our character grew, there was no better place to start applying God’s word than in our relationships with our siblings. I remember having a list of the ‘one another’ scriptures hanging in our kitchen wall as a kid; be patient with one another; forgive one another; pray for one another; help one another; be kind to one another. Josh and I also read a lot of Proverbs as kids, which is jam-packed with practical applications on how to treat one another and deal with the sin in our own lives, be that sharp words, anger, resentment, or intolerance.
- We’d pray about it. Sometimes one of us wanted a good relationship and the other person didn’t. We had a healthy balance between seeing where we go wrong and knowing it isn’t all our fault, and we’d try to do the right thing, but the other person didn’t want to come to the party. So we’d pray that our relationship would grow and that we would get along.
- We had referees. Our parents listened for sharp words. They jumped in when the argument just didn’t resolve on its own. They saw when we moved from frustration to losing the plot. They acted as referees, a mediator, to let us sort out our differences and made us take time out when it had gone as far as it could. I think this really helped us be honest to each other’s face, without the other party over-reacting and not hearing what was being said, and it helped us then know what annoyed the other person and how they would like to be treated.
There are probably more things, but these are a few things that helped us when we were growing up. Every family situation, every couple’s method of parenting, every personality combination is different, but I think these things could maybe help in every situation. Expect it of each other and of yourself. Spend time together. Know when it is possibly your fault too. Pray about it. Pursue character. Get some refs. Know that with Jesus on your side, anything is possible, even having your brother or sister as one of your friends.
And if the frying pan is dirty, it’s okay. You can clean it with a fingernail.