Ava had given Ruby a good shove, and I was attempting to tell her off for it. But each time I tried to speak to Ava about not physically assaulting her baby sister, Ruby mocked me, by shouting "RAH RAH RAH!" over me, in a telling-off-type manner. Then laughing.
Things have moved on a bit since then - but only in the sense that Ruby's capacity with language is greatly increased. Theirs is a relationship not easily interfered with, sometimes I think they're so tight I couldn't slip a sewing needle between them.
It sounds lovely - but understand this is at base level. On an every day level, they compete with each other (for attention and toys), they row about all the normal things that bother three and four-year-olds (flavours of yogurts, colours of plastic spoons and cups, whether it is/is not funny to jump on each others heads etc).
Anyway, the other day, we had a similar thing to the Naughty Step incident, and it made me marvel at how Ruby - the little one - is so very protective of her older sister. Probably more than Ava is of her really (although Ava was once willing to battle a bee on Ruby's behalf).
Despite the cold, Ru had been frolicking around in the back garden and, on her adventures, she had discovered the one and only flower in the vicinity – a winter rose.
Naturally, she picked it. Then she ran in to me, saying: "Mummy, LOOK! I found a flower."
I refrained from mentioning that it might have been nicer to leave it where it was, especially when she asked me to attach it to her hair. I mean, WHY would a three-year-old agree that a the freezing cold garden was a better place for a flower than her own hair?!
So I used a clip, and attached it to her mound of curls, and she continued to play.
Perhaps two minutes later, Ava came in to the kitchen, saying as she came: "What is Ruby doin... GASP! She's got a FLOWER."
She went straight outside, in her socks, and said in a manner as sweet as she could muster: "Ruby! Can I please have your flower, please?"
"Oh, yes!" Ruby responded, and she whipped the rose out of her locks and handed it to her triumphant big sister.
This happens a lot, and sometimes I can't help but intervene. It often feels like Ava takes advantage of Ruby's good nature - she knows she can convince Ru to hand over whatever it is she's coveting. Then, left empty-handed, Ru will then just toddle off to find the next interesting thing.
"Ava!" I said, taking the flower out of her hand. "Ruby found that flower, can't you just let her have something by herself for a while? We could find you a pretty grip instead?"
Ava stayed quiet but stuck her bottom lip out as I held the rose out for Ruby to take back.
But Ruby was not impressed, not one bit. She took the flower from me, and said: "NO, Mummy. Don't tell Ava OFF."
She thrust the flower back towards Ava, who smiled (even more triumphantly) and gently took it and twizzled it in her fingers (much like a princess in a Disney movie would).
"Ru, I just thought that..."
"No, Mummy. K? S'flower for Ava. This is the LAST time I'll tell you..." (gawd, I wonder where's she's heard that before).
"But YOU found it, and..."
"Not telling again Mum-MY! K?" She held her hand up. Seriously! She held her hand up in a talk-to-the-hand sort of fashion that meant 'let's just leave it right there, missy'.
I pursed my lips, to show I wouldn't interfere further (it was her flower - who was I to say what she could or could not do with it?). Ruby, satisfied then, also took the clip out of her hair and handed it to Ava – who then turned to me, held out the flower and the clip, and just said: "Please?"
How could I argue with that? Again, I'd tried to stick up for Ru, but her priority was the happiness of her sibling. She was already outside using an old paintbrush to turn our white washed wall brown with muddy water. I figured in two minutes' time, Ava would probably be holding that brush and Ru would be standing behind her, cheering her on.
What is it? Pure love? An innately generous heart? Perhaps, as the younger one, Ruby just feels thrilled when Ava shows an interest in whatever it is she has, or is doing?
I'm not sure. But knowing how much I love my own big sister, and remembering how pleased I used to be (and still am actually!) when she thought I'd done A Good Job on anything, I know the latter of the three must have something to do with it.
Older sisters: forever our idols!
More on Parentdish: Sibling rivalry