We’re in the late afternoon vortex, everyone milling around the house like they’re auditioning for the role of most irritable, lethargic family member. The kids are bickering for the same half-hearted reason I keep cruising by the chocolate, because it seems like it might be the answer to something.
Their argument is escalating much like an unproductive cough, and I find myself shocked at how two people sprung forth from such enduring, hopeful love could throw such brutal barbs at each other. And, it’s not that I expected them to skip through the daisies of life perpetually holding hands (OK, maybe I did a little bit), but I wasn’t quite prepared for the way they’d take on bickering like it was a daily vitamin in which they were deficient.
Their fighting puts me on some crazy alert, ringing the panic button of my nervous system. I retreat to my room to breathe in enormous, gasping inhales and to dose myself with self-empathy. Their fighting is so upsetting for me. I wish they appreciated each other more. Peaceful communication is so important to me. It turns out self-empathy is the elephant tranquilizer for my nervous system. I remember, miraculously, that most siblings have a little pre-programmed button labeled: I need to be seen as an individual; push here for proof.
Also, I remember that my kids are kind, generous people who often get a little derailed, a little provoked, a little panicked. They need me to dive deep into the murky soup of their discord, prepared to listen, validate feelings and to surface with better understanding of their individual needs. It can be messy and full of spluttering trials. We all eventually swim into the light.
I emerge from my room with the intention of listening without judgment, and the kids are curious enough about my temporary refuge-taking that the trance of their bickering is broken. They need help, they announce, to figure out who has senior rights to the inner tube recently resurrected from its spidery habitat in the shed. I moderate, showing no preferential treatment, even though I’m tempted to announce that a certain someone has taken on the same smug, entitled attitude common to dictators. This little dictator is ultimately kind and generous, I remind myself, with a new and complex need to feel separate from parents, and from that sibling who’s always lurking close by. We call that need autonomy, or independence, or even freedom.
The kids make a plan, which includes multiple contingencies. I fix my mouth in a smile, as self-encouragment to believe in their solutions. I listen, repeat their plan back to them, and flee to the arugula patch, the harvesting of which has become my daily therapy: Pluck leaves, throw stems to the chickens, hose down leaves, bag up, repeat. I find my lungs expanding.
By the time the kids trickle outside Rose is trying to teach Col the precise hand claps that go with Down By The Banks of the Hanky Panky. She’d like him to observe a dissertation-style lesson of coordinating hands movements with singing and Col says, “Rosie, I know it,” and it begins to rain, which is the best news the Earth could deliver. I run into the greenhouse and bring the fennel plants outside to be bathed in real, live, falling rainwater. The grosbeaks, house finches, and house sparrows, who’ve camped out at our feeders all summer are silent for once. The kids execute disjointed hand claps while singing, cheerfully, out of synch. And we all stand under the light, gentle rain and are absolved.
The clouds part and the sun throws down medicinal beams. We strap the inflated inner tube, which feels as coveted as the Hope Diamond, to my bike trailer, and ride down to the river. Here, the ever-changing Animas River reflects it all: the ebb and flow, the dynamism, the shaping and eroding of emotions, qualities, and needs. Turns out, Col is more interested in searching for garter snakes with his friends then tubing around, and so even though the 8-point inner tube contract stated that he would have exclusive rights for the first two hours, Rose takes possession (which, honestly, was written into Contingency Plan A).
I kick back in the sand with Mama-friends, knowing that conflict happens, there is a way through, and we can all walk back into the light.