I’d say that these holidays my children are fighting like cat and dog, but I fear that would be doing cats and dogs a great disservice. We have two cats and two dogs, and they are mostly content to merely avoid each other, with the odd disparaging look and a bit of competition over food. I have certainly never found them screaming at each other at the tops of their voices about the way they look at each other, or that one walks too loudly just too near the other one, or whether ‘vanilla’ is pronounced ‘vanillAH’ not ‘vanillER.’
My children have always fought, on and off. I’d been lulled into a false sense of security though by a very long patch over the last couple of years where they were, mostly, the best of friends. Whole afternoons passed where we barely saw them. i could sit and read my book. Mark. Watch telly. Clean. God, I wish I’d appreciated it more now. It seems years distant now; those halycon days when I could have a shower in the morning without hearing outraged shrieks from one child or the other, followed rapidly by ‘Mummy! He/ she did…’ Sadly, this did not last. I comfort myself with the knowledge that this is entirely normal, and on days when I fear actual blood might be shed and google it for reassurance that a) my children are not turning into psychopaths and b) it might end some day, I am left entirely reassured by the wealth of information available via google that no, they are not turning into pyschopaths, but no, it probaby won’t end some day. Not while they live at home anyway. Dr Google assures me that not only is it entirely normal, but also the sign of a healthy relationship. Excellent. I’m delighted to know that it’s healthy for them and shows we are raising well adjusted, confident, assertive children. I’d just rather that some days they were…well, a bit less confident and assertive. And just a bit bloody nicer to each other. And today was most definitely one of those days:
1. Child 1 is playing, beautifully and absorbedly, with his lego. Child 2 asks him to play with her. He, quite reasonably, says no. Child 2 whinges approximately twelve million times ‘please, please will you play with me?’ He is unbothered by any amount of pleas and is resolute. She cries – loudly and dramatically – and comes to find me. ‘He NEVER wants to play with me Mummy!’ she sobs. This isn’t true and I try to persuade her to go and find something else. Sadly, she wants me to play with her instead.
2. Child 2 is making her – whatever it is she makes with her silk clay. Cats, dogs, horses, who can tell? Child 1 has tired of his Lego and comes to find her to ask her to play with him. Possibly out of spite, but more likely because she is – after an hour of whinging about him not playing with her – happy to make her cats/ dogs/ horses, she says no. The level of indignation from Child 1 has to be seen to be believed. It is NEVER possible that they want to play with each other AT THE SAME TIME. Oh no; that would be too helpful for my sanity.
3. In a rare moment of harmony, they agree to play together. They even agree on what they’re going to play and disappear upstairs. I have a momentary panic about exactly what to do with this unexpected moment in the day when I will not be required to referee; its important to use it wisely because it may be the only one I get all day. All is quiet. I make a cup of tea, flick through facebook, think desultorily about perhaps writing that A level scheme of work that’s playing on my mind, abandon that and turn to twitter. It’s roughly three minutes and twenty seconds before child 2 returns downstairs, raging that they’d agreed to play dragons and now ‘he’s MAKING things again Mummy! MAKING things!’ I remember all those people who clearly thought I was mad for having them twelve months apart, and think they probably had a point. I think equally bitterly of those who told me that it would be lovely when they got older; think how nicely they’d play togeher.
4. I separate them both. Child 1 is, naturally, making things with Lego. Child 2 is doing some crafty thing that involves a lot of glitter and beads and glue. Every now and again she takes her picture over to Child 1 and brandishes it in his face: ‘Look Noah! Do you like my picture?’ Child 1 won’t even look up. ‘I’m busy,’ he says, adding a window or two into his droid’s spaceship. ‘But Noah! PLEASE look at my picture!’ From the kitchen, I sense things going rapidly downhill. I deliberate about whether to intervene; as usual, I decide to leave it and hope it resolves itself. It rarely does but you know – I live in hope. Anyway, Dr Google advises me that it’s crucial that they resolve their own issues – helpful for their future development as sensible, non fighting adults. Dr Google is not so clear on what you do when actual blood is being shed. Or on who the hell these parents are who can stand listening to it for longer than a couple of minutes. Child 1 says, patronisingly, ‘Can’t you see how busy I am? I don’t want to look at it.’ Naturally not, because that would take a WHOLE TEN SECONDS out of his Lego building and would keep her happy for another hour. But no. Child 2 is not one to take no for an answer so just asks him again. And again. And again. Eventually he loses it completely, screams ‘you’re so ANNOYING! WHY are you just so ANNOYING?’ and throws some Lego at her. I can’t entirely blame him; child 2 comes entirely from the school of thought that believes if you just say something often enough, and in a whingy enough way, you’ll get your own way in the end. Resignedly, I go and dole out punishment for the Lego throwing, admire Chid 2’s picture, and have a long chat about how sometimes people don’t want to be interrupted. Child 2 is blank with incomprehension.
5. They play, harmoniously and separately, for a while. Whole minutes pass with no cross words. I make inroads into cleaning the kitchen and start to like my children again. Perhaps today will be a better day. Perhaps we’ve already got all the rows out of the way. Perhaps I’ve suffered enough. Then Child 1 decides to correct Child 2’s pronunciation/ understanding of something/ rules of the game she’s playing; the level of patronisation in his six year old voice has to be heard to be believed. For the first three or four times she is remarkably tolerant of this; she’s a kind and amenable girl who believes, sweetly, that her brother often knows best. This does not last. By the fifth time she’s screeching and I’m having another Talk about how we can’t control others, and he needs to understand that sometimes other people do things he doesn’t like. The kitchen is still not clean. I resume cleaning and congratulate myself on my calm, measured approach to sibling fighting: look how I haven’t lost it! Look at these reasonable talks I’m having! What an amazing mother I am!
6. Child 2 plays with her many Playmobil dogs. Child 2 crashes a few spaceships into things. All is quiet. Child 2 gets up to go to the toilet and accidentally steps on her brother’s hand on the way. All hell breaks loose. My calm, measured approach disappears without trace. There is some shouting and ranting about how I just want children who like each other and are nice to each other, and some sending to their rooms. They trail past me, child 1 indignant: ‘but she HURT me! She STEPPED on my hand!’ and Child 2 hiccuping with the injustice of it all.
7. I finish cleaning the kitchen, have a shower, dry my hair and get dressed, all to near silence from upstairs. I wonder why I didn’t send them to their rooms before and wonder if this could be a new way to spend the holidays, all in separate rooms. It is so quiet that I start to worry that they’ve thrown themselves out of the window in despair and/or rage, so I tiptoe upstairs, and find them underneath a duvet on Child 1’s floor. ‘We’re playing camping out Beast Quest’ explains child 1, cheerfully, looking at his sister as though he’s never thought a terrible thought about her in his life. ‘Noah’s my best friend Mummy,’ says Child 2. I leave, quickly, before it all goes wrong, and go downstairs thinking that maybe that twelve month age gap wasn’t so crazy after all.
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