I love the moments when my boys are like this:
This afternoon they left in high spirits to play tennis at the courts in our neighborhood. I’m still not sure what happened at the tennis courts, but they returned home separately, both filled with fury and absolutely certain that the other had been grievously, outrageously, unforgivably in the wrong. Venomous words and death stares were exchanged. Bitter tears were shed. They retreated to opposite ends of the house to marinate in their own bile.
I wondered if I should dispense a few bromides, make them hug it out, or exact insincere apologies from both aggrieved parties. Being the exceedingly lazy person that I am, I decided to do the easiest thing: nothing at all.
I was reminded of how my mother dealt with us when we quarreled as children…
One day my older sisters were bickering with each other. My mother frogmarched them into the kitchen, poured herself a cup of coffee, drew up a chair, and in a brisk, business-like tone instructed them to punch each other.
My sisters looked at her and then each other with intense embarrassment and discomfiture.
“Well?! You wanted to fight. So fight. Go on!” she said, drumming her fingers on the kitchen table.
They stood there looking miserable.
“Amie, you punch Annabelle,” she urged. Weeping now, my sister declined.
“You wanted to fight, so fight, I said! Go on! Punch Annabelle as hard as you can!”
Seeing that my mother would not be deterred, Amie weakly nudged Annabelle with a closed fist. Now my mother was really enjoying herself. She took another long swig of her coffee and said, “OK, Annabelle. Now you punch her back. Go on!”
When Annabelle, who was also sobbing by now, returned the nudge, they were both finally released from the horror show.
Years later my brother and I were squabbling about something or other when my mother remembered the diabolically clever penal scheme that had sprung like a miracle from her brain: the perfectly formed child of her fertile imagination. She couldn’t wait to relive the glory of the moment.
“You want to fight?! OK! Go on, fight! Adrienne, you punch Teddy.”
I can only imagine the satisfaction she felt as she watched the scene of her past triumph repeat itself.
“But I — don’t want — to hit him!” I blubbered and spluttered and managed to gasp out.
“I said, HIT him! You want to fight so badly, here’s your chance. I’m not stopping you! PUNCH him as HARD as you can!”
It was clear to me that we were mere puppets in this twisted demonstration of my mother’s disciplinary ingenuity and that the show would only end when we did as we were told. I delivered the first symbolic “punch,” a mere brush with my knuckles.
My mother pounced, practially spitting in glee, “Teddy! It’s your turn. Now you punch Adrienne!”
She didn’t need to tell him twice. He turned and punched me so hard I landed on my beleaguered ass clear across the room. That was the last time she ever tried that. But hey, it all worked out in the end…My brother and I love each other, and I even named my own son after him.
This afternoon I heard a lot of sniffling and muttering that went on for hours. Nicholas eventually started to do his homework in the dining room. Teddy took up his ukulele in the living room next door and started strumming it softly.
“Who’s playing the ukulele?” I heard from the dining room. I braced myself for the brouhaha that was sure to ensue and tried to head it off.
“Teddy,” I said, “Nicholas is trying to study. Why don’t you go up to your room and play?”
“No, I like it.” Nicholas said from the other room. “Teddy, you sound really good.”
And that was that. Peace in the valley once again.