My wife was away for a few days, and I had to take care of our three children on my own.
Just keep on schedule and keep the calm – that was my motto.
Mind you, my kids get along, and swimmingly at times. The two youngest, ages 7 and 10, can play together all day with Lego, and the middle boy and his older sister, 12, can play Monopoly pretty much enthralled all afternoon.
But not today.
You can read whatever you want into why they’re not getting along today. Yep, it could very well be that they miss their mum. Or it could be that they can be little shits.
All day they’ve been dragging their feet despite my pleas to get a move on or we’ll be late to school or therapy or whatever else is on the schedule. They’ve bickered over who sits next to me at the table, they’ve taken their sweet-ass time in passing the dishes and sauces and water to each other, and they’ve argued over what to play next. Or if they’ll play together at all.
The squabbling swelled, and that’s when I raised my voice.
“Hey, aren’t we on the same team?” I asked.
They stopped and looked at me as if I’d just said I was the Queen of England and we were going to church after dinner.
That was their response, in English and Spanish.
My mouth dropped. Sure, siblings bicker. But don’t they know that they are in it for life, and that they can be friends over the haul? Yeah, I guess that’s a tall order. We grow up and sometimes we grow apart, and that doesn’t make it easy to keep a team together, other than maybe for reunions every now and again. And then we’re on our way again, back to our lives on our own.
What a downer! But instead of succumbing to such depressing thoughts, I got an idea of how to rein in the dividing forces at the table.
“Who wants some chocolate?” I said, standing up.
“Me!” they all said, their faces brightening.
I handed them each a piece of dark cooking chocolate (gluten- and milk-free, for my son).
They started savoring each bite.
“Hey, look Dad,” the eldest said a minute later, turning to show me her puckered lips painted in chocolate.
Her brother and sister laughed and proceeded to do the same. Her brother painted stripes on his cheeks, and soon they were all marveling at each other’s antics, cheering each other on.
I smiled and thought, this may very well be the solution to sibling squabbles – a bar of chocolate. I opened my mouth to ask if we were all on the same team now, but I stopped myself. I didn’t want to ruin the moment. So I took the dog out for a walk in a cheery mood.
When I got back, the kids were still at the table.
Except the youngest.
She was at the kitchen counter cutting her piece of chocolate.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I can’t eat it all,” she said. “I’m sharing mine.”
Her brother and sister said, “Thanks,” when the youngest handed them the little pieces, and on they went nibbling their chocolate with chocolate faces and chocolate-filled bellies in a brotherly high.
Then I said, “Hey, let’s have one more piece,” and I divided one it into four.
“Yay!” they all said. In unison.