From Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler's Soul

The Green One

Being a mother, as far as I can tell, is a constantly evolving process of adapting to the needs of your child while also changing and growing as a person in your own right.

Deborah Insel

“I want the green one!” My nine-year-old shouted from the passenger seat beside me. His five-year-old sister burst into angry tears.

“No, I want the green one. You always get to pick first!” From my vantage point in the driver’s seat, I could see directly into the basket of lollipops being offered by the bank teller at the drive-through. All of the lollipops were green, a fact my son had noticed as the opportunity of a lifetime. By calling for the green one, he could amuse himself and unsettle his sister at the same time.

I sighed and accepted two green lollipops.

When had my role as mother deteriorated into referee? I’d somehow thought my kids would rise above the constant rivalry and bickering that defined my own childhood. I should have known better.

The first time Alison broke one of Mitch’s toys, the lines were drawn and the battle waged. Until then, she had been the baby, a cute little thing who liked to cover his eyes with her chubby hands during his favorite cartoon show. Annoying but tolerable. Getting into his stuff and breaking things was another matter. Big brother declared war— a war that continued until he moved into his own apartment twenty years later.

Twenty years! I spent almost half of my life breaking up arguments and sending opponents to neutral corners. I once assumed I could avoid sibling rivalry by loving them equally. Ha! For twenty-two years, Christmas gifts were purchased according to evenly matched price tags, privileges doled out at identical ages and cake servings measured to the nth degree.

At times, I thought it would be easier to raise geraniums. Mitch and Alison quarreled over television shows, telephone calls and whose turn it was to do the dishes. Most often they fought over nothing at all. You know—“She’s bugging me,” or “He’s making a face at me again.” It seemed they were unhappy to occupy the same house. Or planet.

No advice column or book offered a solution that worked in our home. I tried a variety of strategies and punishments, but nothing eliminated or even decreased the fighting. Time-outs provided opportunities for plotting revenge. Increased chore assignments caused disputes over who had the more difficult duties. My most frequent response—yelling—probably made the neighbors think I’d lost my marbles.

Or maybe they were too busy yelling at their own kids to notice.

So how did I cope with fighting children? I waited them out. I knew they’d grow up some day. They had to. I hoped they’d eventually put away their childish bickering and learn to like each other. Guess what? They did.

The year my daughter graduated from high school, she and her brother, her life-long enemy, took a trip to Disneyland together. He let her drive his new car; she helped with gas money. They had a blast.

Later, he recommended her for a job in his office, and they drove to work together. Five days a week, twenty-five minutes each way. In the same car, in heavy traffic. My son and my daughter—together. That was several years ago, and I still haven’t gotten over it.

Yes, kids do grow up, mature even. The fighting ceases, and they start to love each other. Meanwhile, we moms must grit our teeth, pray for patience and wait. It worked for me, and I’ll bet it will work for you, too.

But I still keep a supply of green lollipops on hand—just in case.

June Williams

Off the Mark, by Mark Parisi. Reprinted by permission of Mark Parisi.

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