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conflict is practice for all future relationships

2020 January 23
by Rachel Turiel

Outside, in the sun’s negative space, the shadows cast long, bluish shapes across the snow. Chard and kale hang on under the cold frame through single degrees, perhaps detecting the minute—one minute!—of daylight we’re now gaining every 24 hours. Thousands of crab apples dangle from our trees, and I watch expectantly, like the empty-nester who’s filled her pantry, for the robins and waxwings to come home and feast.
The human-dog puzzle; there is always a way to snap together perfectly.

Inside, the dog sighs, spoiledly, from the couch. The kids are home, spinning their wheel of choices to decide what’s happening now. Options: ignore each other and do their own thing; get curious about what the other is doing and insert oneself, perhaps successfully, perhaps annoyingly; full-on brawl; collaborate for glorious moments on which Dan and I quietly eavesdrop, like explorers having discovered a rare, lost tribe.

Before tonight’s knock-down, drag-out over a Garfield comic book, we were all gathered at the dinner table eating grilled deer backstraps, Rosie asking “Is this from the roadkill you found today, Daddy?” as wide eyed and appreciative as the 1950’s daughter wondering if the bread-winner had brought home filet mignon again. 

Ravine: our new go-to game. It took us a few rounds to realize it’s a cooperative game; i.e. hoarding and scheming against each other doesn’t actually work in our favor.

It was a Saturday, and the kids and I had walked downtown to hear some live music and when the folk duo (Sheryl and Beau! Yeah!) sang they are one person/they are two alone/they are three together/they are for-or each other in their sweet voices, I grabbed both kids and pulled them to me, arugula glinting in my teeth, knowing this song was written for us. “Awkward,” Col said, rolling his eyes, as required, though not pulling away an iota. I remembered Col’s most recent bedtime confession: “I love you and Daddy the most and the same amount. And next, Rose and Rocket.” Being on par with the dog is a lofty place. These raw expressions of love are unwieldy to wrestle with in the light of day.

Later, we’re all gathered around the pellet stove (central source of warmth = a great strategy for forced togetherness), Dan and I playing Scrabble (sorry honey, “Zumba” is a proper noun), Rose snuggling the dog while reading Garfield (foreshadowing), and Col devouring a Stephen King book before his self-imposed scary book curfew of 7pm. I am thinking to myself, this family life is so sweet. 

Post-bedtime, a four alarm fight breaks out over the Garfield book. I have to physically separate the kids, and then do the kind of mediating that takes place at high decibels, everyone’s nervous system twanging with intensity. Somehow I’m able to remind myself, people are mad and exhausted. Siblings fight. Sometimes staying vigilant to accurate observations keeps the balloon of me from floating off into anxious projection.

Later, I do my bedtime rounds and check on each kid. I am an empathy vending machine. Press my buttons and I will stroke your forehead and care for your feelings. Rose tells me “I’m sick of being Col’s book supplier! And if he had been a little nicer about giving me my book back, I’d probably bring it to him because I’m ready to go to sleep.” My arms extend finding the softness of her scalp. “You just wanted some kindness, huh? A little consideration and appreciation for bringing this book into the house.” 

Next door, Col tells me that The Shining is so scary he wanted to read Garfield to relax his mind. My arms extend. “Oh honey, you just wanted some peace for your mind. You wanted to be heard about how important that was to you.”

It’s never about the book, is it.

The next morning I ask the kids to make an agreement about what do to next time Col wants to read a book that Rose checked out of the library. Together they make a plan, write it up, sign it and stick it on the fridge. Why have the same damn fight more than once?

Later that morning Col is reading the Garfield book on the couch. Rose is making a smoothie ten feet away and the sibling weather seems calm and stable. I realize that for them conflict is not a rift in their fabric; it’s part of the pattern. It’s not a problem, it’s practice for all future relationships.

Now, they’re in Rose’s room collaborating on an art project, which looks like this:

Col: Can I draw something in your new art-prompts book?

Rose: No, I want to save the pages.

Col: How about I just draw the parts that are hard for you?

Rose: Can you draw a cow?

Col: Sure.

Rose: Ok.

Col is too cool to tooth it up for photos these days, but I guarantee you, he’s happy to have been invited into Rosie’s habitat.

Dan is in the kitchen marinating a deer heart, shuffling pots of other marinating deer parts in the fridge, the roadkill pipeline having been quite productive this winter. I’m contemplating heading out for a cross-country ski with the dog, though am moving Sunday-slow, wondering how to wring all the sweetness out of this last weekend day. 

Maybe there’s time for a Scrabble game before I head out. But then we’d need more coffee.

“Are you making another pot of coffee?” I ask Dan. 

“Oh yes,” he says. “I’m making coffee great again.”

Another freaking birthday. Such a damn nice kid.

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Susan Harris permalink
    January 23, 2020

    I love your writing, Rachel!!

  2. Molly permalink
    January 23, 2020

    I’ve been missing these. Love.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      January 24, 2020

      Thanks for saying, Molly.

  3. January 23, 2020


  4. Trish Ireland Arny permalink
    January 24, 2020

    You have such a beautiful family! The kids are growing up and becoming amazing people. I love the photos.

    I was one of those grandmas who warned you how fast it all went. I remember you not being too fond of my comment but now when you look back, it’s gone by in a flash. Keep cherishing each moment (good and not so good) with your family, and keep those memories alive. Love to all of you!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      January 24, 2020

      Aww, Trish. I have BECOME one of those grandma-types who want to tell anyone with a baby how fast it goes. Because it really does. xoxo

  5. Amy permalink
    January 25, 2020

    Love your writing … you seem to be doing a great job of keeping your kids off of screens … love seeing the reading and games… I found without phones my teens were missing out on social opportunities bc the kids were all snapping and texting DMing etc! So we relented and I do feel like phones are more a part of their lives than I would like! Would love to see a post about how you have navigate that … if you have written one and I missed it would love to know where to find it

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      January 29, 2020

      The world of tech is one we are constantly navigating, regularly re-calibrating and often wringing our hands over. It’s really challenging. Our MO has been generally to go very slow adding new exposures, make very clear agreements, and to try and balance out screen time with creative, active activities, or just good old fashioned boredom (trusting it will lead to something worthwhile).
      I think, like you, most parents feel like phones are more a part of our kids lives than we would like. Sometimes I think I overreact to my kids love of screens, because I worry about them numbing their emotions on screens, and the warped view of reality that is social media. Other times, I think the internet is akin to an addictive substance (for people of all ages) and it’s on me as a parent to monitor and limit my kids’ use.
      So, basically, I try to make clear agreements that I can live with, fully relax around what we’ve decided so I’m not hovering with judgment, and then gently nudge them into non-screen opportunities. Hope this helps.

      • Amy Brydges permalink
        February 3, 2020

        Rachel, It does help thank you! We have tried to take a similar approach. Our kids are almost 16 and 18… when we did allow social media (my husband and I aren’t on it so it was new terrain for us) and trust me our kids will tell you we were the last to allow it in their friend group, the agreement was that their accounts would stream onto my phone so I could monitor it… I only kept the app on my phone for a year, but was glad I did… lots of talking points to be had about responding to friends… they are good kids and they are kind, but I was glad to be there to guide them.
        I find our kids actually appreciate our family dinners at the dinner table being unplugged… we need that time to circle our wagons as a family and enjoy time reconnecting after being apart all day. I like your idea of forced boredom and creating opportunities to be creative.

  6. January 28, 2020

    I was having a day where I felt very strongly like I needed to be a better, more patient, parent in navigating conflict, I’m losing my grip a bit on it during this prolonged pain flare that’s eating away at my nerves and my consciousness, and this was a soothing balm to read, reminding me it CAN be done.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      January 29, 2020

      It *can* be done, always, but will be a much tougher climb if you’re in chronic pain. :(
      I hope there is someone caring for you, surrounding you with love and compassion and care so you can be strengthened in this very very demanding work of parenting.

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