For the moms out there who wonder some days if their kids will ever be good friends, it happens. This article was first published in 2007. A lot has happened in those nine years. My kids have grown up and are moving out on their own. Family times together are much less frequent. The pecking order changes from time to time, depending on who is home. Yet this remains true: we are still friends as well as family.
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The house is quieter now, and things are finally getting put back to order. Ah, how I love the sense of serenity that is here following chaotic no-school days. After the kids have headed off to school and my hubby is at work, I tidy my haven and inhale the quiet.
The bedrooms upstairs are back in order (well, let’s just say you can walk through the rooms and covers are pulled up on the beds). We’re settling back into our daily routine, and the diastolic number of my blood pressure is going back down where it belongs. Ah, what cadence!
Yet, in the midst of the stillness, phrases and episodes permeate my thoughts. I wanted a Norman Rockwell home life and all participants in sync with the rhythm of family. I wanted a sonata of pleasant memories and positive experiences. I envisioned happy tunes and get-along-ability and “all hands on deck” when I called for assistance in the kitchen or with the laundry. I dreamed of grand crescendos of conflict resolution. I longed for days on end of perfect harmony and evenings with majestic symphony.
It doesn’t happen that way. Our kids argue over whose turn it isn’t to empty the dishwasher. They fight for the best seat on the sofa when we’re watching a video or having family devotions. They disagree over playing Monopoly or Dominos or playing anything at all. Some days it seems there is nothing but discord in our home.
I remember a trip to Williamsburg for a mini-vacation that began with sibling warfare when it came to choosing bedrooms. We, the parents, decided the girls would get to choose first. We had our reasons and we knew they were good ones.
When it came time to packing and loading for this trip, the girls had helped the most. In fact, they were practically the only ones who helped at all. Most importantly, in eight years of visiting this spot, the girls had not once had the room with the king-sized bed, master bath, and Jacuzzi.
Sarah Beth said she didn’t care (only because she didn’t want to hear about it for the rest of the week). But Rebekah drew out her sword and dared anyone to defy her choice of the master bedroom with the king-size bed, TV, and Jacuzzi.
The brothers begged and coddled, trying to convince their sisters that they’d never use the bathroom and the girls could have it anytime they wanted. They didn’t want the Jacuzzi. They just wanted the larger room with their own TV so they could watch Virginia Tech play that weekend. Rebekah stood her ground and won. Indeed, she also won a new name from her brothers: Jacuzzi.
Sarah Beth, sporting first-time glasses, wanted only to stay out of the fray and tried to diffuse the tension by not taking sides. She detested wearing glasses and her brothers knew she was wearing them for one reason: to be able to get contact lenses later. Because she wouldn’t defend them in having first choice of a bedroom, she was dubbed her own name: Catfish.
That evening the guys played Monopoly while the girls watched a video. Tension was still high because the guys had lost the battle of the bedrooms. Aaron was upset with one of his brothers who wouldn’t help him complete a set by selling St. Charles Place to him. Jerking his head back and placing his hands on his hips with specific emphasis, he spouted, “Well, fine, then!”
For the remainder of the game and for the rest of our vacation, anyone who didn’t “get his way” would respond in kind. Hands on hips and a toss of the head corresponded in sync to that one word: “Fine!”
For days on end, the brothers called their sisters by their new names: Catfish and Jacuzzi. Sarah Beth, who saw the situation as it was, handled it well most of the time, ignoring the obvious attempts of her brothers to rankle her.
Our girls are as different as the sun and the moon. After a few days of her name change, Rebekah responded with volcanic anger anytime someone called her Jacuzzi. The littlest guy grew weary of folks imitating his “Fine!” There was frustration and yes, some tears. The older brothers laughed at the tears and kept saying, “Fine!” until their father grew weary of the dissonance and decided enough was simply enough. He brought the clamor to an abrupt halt when he promised repercussions if the ruckus didn’t stop.
I have never been able to figure out what it is that makes a child want to continue teasing to the point of tears. I suspect that the culprit does not understand the pain he inflicts. My guys thought it was time for little brother (who had just turned eleven) to “grow up and be a man.” They thought the girls should be able to handle their nicknames because they were only joking. I suppose that teasing continues more because children, as well as adults, enjoy the power they experience as they inflict pain on someone else. Perhaps they think inflicting wounds on someone else will lessen their own pain.
Just as a cat continues to play with its prey, so some kids will torment and tease. There’s another name for that cat-and-mouse game, and it’s called sin nature. I can’t rid my kids of their sin nature, but I can help them rise above human nature and become an advocate for “being bigger” than that. I can encourage them to keep tuning so the notes they play as siblings will bring less discord and more harmony with each other.
I tried to coach my daughters to laugh at their brothers and play along with them. I encouraged the littlest guy to join in the laughter and use the same phrase on his brothers in fun. It worked when they followed the notes intended for harmony.
“They’re only doing it because they know it makes you mad,” I told my kids. “They love to know they can control your emotions by making you angry. If you laugh at their foolishness, it will take the wind right out of their sails. If you laugh with them, they won’t be controlling you. Make it a challenge to see who can best whom,” I advised.
Now, in the quiet and calm of our house, I walk through the empty rooms, remembering. There is strewn luggage, a stash of laundry, and an assortment of books scattered over the floors of their rooms. I wonder how I managed to raise kids who will not pick up their clothes, and who don’t care if the shirts they wear are wrinkled from being buried under several layers of clothing.
I wonder what we did wrong to raise kids who still fuss and fight and make snide remarks to each other. I wonder why they don’t want to lend a hand in the kitchen or with the laundry—and why they complain if they do help. I wonder why it is easier to begin a war and continue the combat than end a conflict by laying down swords and improvising peace.
I wonder why, when the beauty of harmony can be so complete, anyone would want to continue playing off-key. I suppose it’s because the one causing the greatest discord is unable to hear other chords since he is intent on strumming his own rhythm. It seems easier to think someone else should match my chords than to make the effort to change my tune so we can all be in key. Why is it that we insist on singing our songs above everyone else’s?!
Then I remember the night we stayed up until one o’clock in the morning to play a complete set of Mexican Train Dominos. I recall that the next evening, we started the game earlier because everyone was eager to finish a complete set and bedtime needed to be earlier that night.
Or the evening Ben, Jason, and Tim played keyboard and guitar, singing together for hours. I remember the evening Sarah Beth made quesadillas-to-order for each person in the family, just because she wanted to please. Nor can I forget the day I came home from work and found that Rebekah had completed all the laundry (no small feat for a family of eight) by herself. I recall the day Aaron and Ben emptied the dishwasher together, talking about their favorite sports teams while putting half the things away in the wrong places.
I treasure the memory of the evening I found out someone wanted to drop in to see our new kitchen the next morning. Everyone pitched in, and in less than half an hour, our place was tidy and presentable.
I remember hearing “Jacuzzi” and “Catfish” and “Fine!” for days on end. I realize we’ve made memories, once again, just by taking the time to be together. Someday we’ll laugh at the memories of our clamor.
Our friendship as a family will have its share of discord and dissension. Even though we wear on each other’s nerves, for the most part, we like each other’s company. Those sour notes of Jacuzzi and Catfish will be a thing of the past.
Our harmony, though off-key at times, will improve with practice, and we’ll still be friends as well as family.