Lately, my kids have been beating each other senseless and -- call me crazy -- I can't stand it. The fistfights are a relatively new development and an extremely unpleasant one. I mean, Primo, 7, and Seconda, 5, have always fought but recently they've taken their squabbles to a new level which is bit too physical for my taste. Its like when the baby came, they just decided that three kids was too many for this family and they'd better trim those numbers down by killing each other. The kid gloves, so to speak, are off.
It usually begins with Sec pestering Primo in some terribly aggravating way that only a kid sister could manage, like calling him a silly name or swatting at him with her little talons or shoving the last cookie in her mouth even though she already ate hers and her brother hasn't had any yet. She does this approximately four hundred times in the course of a normal day. And for the first two or three instances, Primo usually manages to maintain his composure. But then apropos of nothing, she'll call him Professor Poopyface and its like, that was the last straw. He just suddenly blows his top, and its Unleash-the-Kraken Time.
I'm sure there are all sorts of collaborative problem solving techniques I could be employing to trouble-shoot this and I try, I really do, but I also have a newborn and am trying to find us a place to live that boasts more than one bedroom for five people. I'm busy. So I usually end up screaming "Stop it you two!" or "Why did I bother having children if they were just going to kill each other?" or "One day, you'll regret acting like this!" or some other such ineffectual phrase.
This weekend, the kids really outdid themselves with their sibling smackdowns. We went up to Fort Tryon park for the first birthday party of my best friend's son. The weather was sublime and the scene was bucolic -- a dozen or so grown-ups wearing summer dresses and khakis,sitting on picnic blankets, drinking lemonade, while the super adorable birthday boy toddled around in a bow tie. It was the kind of scene we don't belong in.
At first my kids were kind of shy and this made them stick together, holding hands as they selected sandwiches and sitting next to each other as they ate birthday cake. They managed to convince the party-goers that they liked each other, and that they could be civilized.
"Awwww, they're so sweet with each other," a child-less young woman cooed as she watched them.
"Just wait, lady," I thought.
And, much as I hate to say it, I was right. As soon as they got comfortable in the party environs, they got feisty. They began chasing each other and playing tag and then I knew we'd be in for a barroom style brawl. After a bit, when the kids started wrestling dangerously close to what remained of the birthday cake, my friend offered them a tub of bubbles. Not one to share, mind you, but one bubble tub for each of them. In other words, what could there possibly be to fight over? I figured this would buy me at least 10 minutes of peace and quiet. Kids go cuckoo for bubbles, even the big kids. Its just one of those things.
But five minutes later, I saw the kids were running around again, now playing tag WITH the bubbles in hand. Before I could stop them, Sec stumbled and fell, dropping her bubbles to the ground, where they gurgled out to empty in a matter of seconds. A look of black rage passed across her face. And I could have put money on what happened next. She raced over to her brother and promptly knocked the bubbles out of his hand, causing a huge belch of bubble juice to be poured on the ground. I know Primo so I know that he was planning to keep those bubbles all summer, to apportion only a certain milligram dose of bubble juice per day so that it would last and last and last and he'd never run out of bubble juice. He can get kind of Scroogey about this stuff. So when she caused his bubble juice to be squandered, to just sink into the dirt like that, he went loco. You could virtually see him let go of his grip on sanity as he grabbed the bubble tub off the ground and tossed its entire contents directly into his sisters face.
Not the general vicinity of her head or her front half, but DIRECTLY INTO HER FACE.
We all stood there dumbstruck as highly concentrated soap doused Sec's eyes and nose and mouth. And of course her mouth was open. Agape. She was shocked.
And then she started screaming. No specific words, just general screaming. I was nursing the baby and couldn't get up, but I barked orders helpfully from the grass.
"DO something!" I told my husband David.
"Just LOOK at her!" he replied.
It did seem impossible to believe that one could remove the soap from her body's surface, it was so saturated with it. You'd need a swimming pool or at least a very powerful hose to get the job done. And we were in the middle of a park and wouldn't you know, no where near an emergency eye wash station.
I tossed him a Poland Springs water bottle.
"Are you kidding me?" he asked, "What am I supposed to do with THIS?"
Seconda was now sputtering and spitting, trying to get the foul taste of soap out her mouth. She was also blinking madly and screaming. "MY EYES ARE BURNING!" and then, realizing that might be a bad sign, she started hollering, "I DON"T WANT TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL!!! PLEASE! DON'T TAKE ME TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM!"
Meanwhile Primo got his voice back and started trying desperately to defend himself, reminding me that she'd started it. Which of course is SO relevant. At which point I hissed that he should go away, far away. OK, not too far away, since we were in a public park, but there, over there by that tree. Where I couldn't hear him.
Then David started the colossal task of rinsing Sec off, in the process soaking her thoroughly. Eventually, we were able to convince her she wouldn't need to go to the hospital and she calmed down and started to enjoy her role as victim.
"I just can't believe my own brother poured the bubble juice right into my eyes!" she mused out loud to anyone who'd listen, "And for no reason!"
This threw Primo back into a dissociative homicidal rage, on and off for most of the afternoon.
"Should we go home?" I asked David, "She's soaking wet and her face is still coated in soap and the kids hate each other."
"Just put her in the sun to dry," he counseled, "And we'll go to the Cloisters."
That's just how we roll. If we let a little ruthless sibling smackdown deter us, we'd never do anything or get anywhere. And the upside? Seconda is assuredly the cleanest little girl in America. And she's got a good story.