I’m pretty sure that I have intimated, sometimes not so subtly, that the relationship between my middle and youngest sons is almost unbearable to live with. They argue constantly and cannot be in the same room for more than 60 seconds without serious conflict. And, on a day without the separation of school, it is not unheard of for Simon or I to break up at least fifteen or twenty major explosions between them. They simply cannot be within two feet of each other without a knock-down-drag-out fight.
One-on-one they are the sweetest and most delightful human beings and I absolutely adore them. I just cannot live with then together.
The only solution that Simon and I have found over the years is what we fondly refer to as; divide and conquer. The problem with this practice is that we are essentially giving up on time together as a family. That, really, we can only be a family of three or a family of two. And, that we do not have the resource to figure out a way of dealing with this intolerable situation between our two youngest children.
Our trip to New York City last week had some great moments. And, it was also one of the hardest trips I have ever endured. Michael and Zachary fought the entire time; stepping on each others feet wherever we walked, arguing over who got to walk in front of the other, who got to take a picture with my camera, who got to push the elevator button in the hotel, who had to sit in the very back seat of the van. And when it came time for fun family pictures, there was no way they could be beside each other because it would turn into a pushing and shoving match.
I’m sure we looked like a really happy family in all those pictures I published last week. That’s what I wanted you to see. That’s what I wanted you to believe.
That’s what I want to believe.
We do have some happy moments as a family but they are all-too-fleeting. And, even while I am enjoying the calm of the moment, I know that the next explosion is simmering just below the surface.
I call this simmering ‘gas on the floor’, which I wrote about a few months ago in a post called A Radical Rethink. Even when Michael and Zach are not fighting, I know it is just a matter of seconds before the next major conflagration.
I’m sure it is no surprise to hear that these eruptions are having a serious impact on my health. My stomach is always in knots, my hands shake, my heart pounds for no apparent reason (even when I am not around the boys) and my chest is so tight when they fight I sometimes struggle for breath. I reached a breaking point this summer and have spent considerable time away from my family (with the two boys divided).
Our trip last week pushed me over the cliffs of insanity and as soon as we got home I escaped to the quiet sanity of my parents’ place up north. Unfortunately, I can’t hide up there until all the kids go off to university so I have to figure out a way to cope.
Well, the Universe decided that enough is enough and the whole issue came to a head last night.
Simon left for the airport at 5:30 last night for a nine-day trip to England. And, at 6:30, Michael and Zachary had a knock-down-drag-out fight in front of our house while trying to play road hockey together.
And I completely and utterly snapped!
There is no need to go into detail on the snapping but let’s just say that the elephant that has been living in our family for ten years was finally named. And once that enormous weight was cleared off to the side, we had the opportunity to really talk to each other and to really listen. We sat in the kitchen and communicated in a way that we never have before. We talked about my health (both physical and emotional), their well-being and the kind of relationship they want to have. And I think for the first time, they actually had a chance to consider how they would like to be in relationship together.
We talked about discipline. We talked about the carrot and the stick. And they had the opportunity to tell me that the stick does not work for them and that they would like to try a new approach. And so, without any input from me, Michael and Zachary designed an alliance for the nine days that Simon is away. It is a very simple design and includes some significant incentives. And, because it is their plan, they are highly motivated to make it work.
I went to bed last night feeling exhausted and moderately skeptical as to whether the boys could actually go a day without fighting, let alone five or seven or nine days. But, I decided I wanted to lean into their alliance and support them in any way I could so I put the skepticism on the back burner.
I awakened this morning to an entirely different family. Michael and Zachary had been up together for two hours before coming to awaken me. Usually when they are up together in the morning and I am not, I am roused from sleep by yelling and arguing. Not this morning. Not only did they get through the early morning without arguing, they awakened me with smiles on their faces and light in their eyes. They brought me tea in bed, emptied the dishwasher without being asked, stripped their beds so I could wash their sheets and stopped playing together on the X-Box when they felt conflict building.
I am thrilled to report that it is 7:00 in the evening and we have had the best day I can remember in a very long time. We got through a day of back-to-school shopping with nary a cross word. We laughed, we talked and we had fun together. There is absolutely no tension in the house and I already feel like a new woman.
Both boys have remarked to me how good it feels to not be fighting and how much they love the carrot. They are feeling in control of their own relationship and the wonderful impact of a great day. It will be so interesting to watch the days ahead of us unfold. Regardless of what happens, however, I am utterly relieved to feel a glimmer of hope where Michael and Zachary are concerned.
I’d say that’s a pretty extraordinary day! 🙂