Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Brawl





Siblings fight, right?  My brother and I fought like cats and dogs for years.  We fought hard.  I mean, we like beat on each other.  At some point it stopped.  I think it stopped about the time we figured out we had better things to do with our time and we had the freedom to leave the house to go do those things.  So, siblings fight and then they find something else to do.  
  
Among Coco, Flynn and Margot, Coco and Flynn play together the most.  Both of them are imaginative, energetic and physical.  And they’re both bossy and stubborn.  So when they play together there’s a lot of declarations, orders and yelling.  There’s usually running around and jumping on and off things (except when Papa’s home; when Papa’s home there’s no jumping on and off things).  Lately, their play has been all about capes, superheroes and magical powers.  Super magical powers.  Like ice power.  Like Elsa’s ice power.  I’m not allowed to have super magical powers when I play with them; I'm just the target for their super magical powers which I think is totally “no fair!” 

Of course, playing leads to arguing and bickering.  Recently the bickering has become more physical.  Sometimes there’s a bit of pushing.  Occasionally Someone hits Someone Else and then Someone Else hits Someone back, and then both Someone and Someone Else end up sitting on the steps.   


Margot consistently stays above the fray.  Quite often she prefers to play by herself.  While Coco and Flynn are running around and jumping on and off things, Margot is setting up a tea party, feeding one of her dolls, or playing with Flynn’s Barbie house.  Once in a while she even asks me to tell Coco and Flynn NOT to play with her since she knows they’ll swoop in and wreak havoc on her otherwise organized and orderly play.  (Margot’s need for organization, order and a plan is a topic for another post.)

One morning last week Coco and Flynn started their day with playing that turned into arguing.  Not an unusual occurrence.  I was getting dressed for work and I could hear them in the other room arguing about something.  Flynn came into the room where I was getting dressed.

“Coco being mean,” he reported.  Not a surprise.  If there is a refrain in our house right now it is definitely “Coco being mean.”  I mean I hear it multiple times every day from Flynn and Margot, or I hear variations on the theme:  “Coco being mean,” “Coco not letting me play,” “Coco’s a meany.”  Coco defends herself by telling me that Flynn and Margot are not listening to her and they’re not doing what she tells them to do.  Now, pause, and consider this.  I am listening to my six-year-old daughter complain about someone who is not listening and not doing what they’re told.


But, back to Flynn and Coco.
“Coco being mean,” Flynn reported.
“No, I’m not!” Coco yelled from the other room.
“Coco being a meany.”
“No!  He’s lying!  He’s just trying to get me into trouble.”

So, what did I do? I did what any parent would do: I extracted myself from the situation, made some half-hearted remark to Coco about being nice to Flynn, and went downstairs to pack my bag for work.  About five minutes later Margot came looking for me.  “Coco and Flynn are fighting,” she said.  I stopped and listened.  I could hear them upstairs yelling at each other.  The yelling sounded more intense than usual.

So, I trudged upstairs to see what was happening.  I could hear the screaming as I climbed the stairs.  Yep, the yelling had definitely turned into screaming.  The needle on the “fight-o-meter” dial had moved into the red.  As I reached the top of the stairs I could see Coco and Flynn on the couch in the TV room.  It was not good.  Flynn was on top of Coco, straddled across her stomach, holding a fist full of her hair and screaming at her.  Coco was under Flynn screaming back at him and trying to kick him as hard as she could.  Both their faces were scarlet red.  Coco was crying.  They were clearly trying to inflict pain on each other.  It was a full-on brawl. 


I was shocked.

And then I lost my mind.  

Now, before I had kids I was always appalled when I heard parents yelling at their kids.  Not just barking orders at their kids like, “Hey, stop doing that!” No, I mean all-out yelling at their kids.  I would think to myself smugly, “I would never, ever, yell at my kids like that.”  Well, you know where this is going.  Every parent has a point, a threshold, where they’re exhausted and their kids have worked their last nerve and stretched their patience to the breaking point.  Fortunately, for me – and for Coco, Flynn and Margot – it’s not often that I reach that point.  But I admit on some rare occasions I lose my mind and yell at my kids.

I stormed into the TV room, yelling, “What is going on?!!  What are you doing?!!” I pulled Flynn off of Coco.  He was like an angry cat, hissing, with claws fully extended.  Coco was sobbing, “Flynn hurt me!  Flynn, hurt me!”

But I was not done yelling.  “You will never, ever, ever fight like that in this house.  Ever!  DO YOU HEAR ME?!!!”

Well, they heard me.  And so did the neighbors probably.  People walking their dogs in the park at the end of the street probably heard me.  And maybe some smug, no-kids fool walking past the house heard me too and thought to himself, “I would never, ever, yell at my kids like that.”  Whatever.


Fortunately, all those things my kids have learned on PBSKids, well, I’ve learned them too.  As Daniel Tiger says, “If you’re frustrated, take a deep breath and count to four.”

I need to take a minute and calm down,” I thought to myself.  “Coco and Flynn,” I said, “I’m going to walk out of this room right now and decide what I’m going to do about this.  Do not talk to each other.”

When I came back into the room, much, much calmer, I put them in separate rooms, sitting on beds, looking at the walls and left them.  Ten minutes later I came back to talk to them, to hear their sides of the story, and to pass judgment.  They pled their cases in very different ways.

I talked to Flynn first.  He was quite calm.  He sat on the bed, waiting for me to come back, like he was waiting for a bus, or for a cup of coffee, or for the start of a business meeting of some kind.  When I asked him what happened, he was very clear about the extent of his guilt.

“Did you hit your sister?” I asked.
“No.”
“Did you scratch your sister?”
“No.”
"Yes, he did!” screamed Coco from the other room.  “Yes!  He!  Did!”  She was crying again.
“Did you pull her hair?”  There was a pause.  “Flynn?”
“Yes.  But that is it,” he said emphatically, gesturing with his hands like he was an umpire calling the runner safe at first base.  “That is it.”  And with that, it was clear he had nothing further to say.  He rested his case.

Coco was the opposite of calm.  She was crying, complaining about her injuries, and immediately showed me the scratches on her arms and legs.  I think she probably had been searching her body, hoping to find a place where Flynn had actually drawn blood, but no such luck.  There was no blood, but she was pretty scratched up.

Of course I don’t know what started the fight.  As a parent, nine times out of ten, you don’t know what happened.  You don’t know who started it. You don’t know whose fault it was.  You do know, however, that it’s only a matter of time before the next fight, the next brawl. 


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