Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bickering Below

Josie and Eli, 2002

My ‘office’ is in a corner of our upstairs bedroom.  Directly below is the living room.  As I sat at my desk, trying like the devil to write a poem for the 60th birthday party of a stranger in Massachusetts, I could hear the unmistakable sounds of teenagers involved in a difference of opinion.  I couldn’t hear the words being said, but I certainly recognized the volume and the tenor.  Josie and Eli were arguing.

I let it go for a few minutes.  I was busy.  I was trying to be creative and come up with a poem which would exemplify a woman whom I’d never met, but who had been described to me in great detail by someone who loved her.  I was getting paid to provide the focal point for the event: an amusing story told in rhyme which would be framed and gifted to the woman whose life was being celebrated.  I didn’t want to lose my concentration.  I was on a roll.

But creative ‘rolls’—especially when they are supposed to be humorous—necessitate that I be able to focus.  More importantly… that I be in a good mood. 

Listening to my children squabble isn’t conducive to supporting a mellow temperament.  Finally, I rolled back my chair and went to the head of the stairs.

“Hey, guys?  Will you please quit fighting?”

“We aren’t fighting, Mama!” hollered Josie-Earl.

“Yes, Mum, we are!” shouted Elias.
J&E, 2009

Uh-huh.  Just as I thought.  They were fighting about not fighting.

“Okay, well…whatever.  It sounds like fighting.   So stop it.”

I went back to work.  The lull was temporary.  Maybe 10 seconds.  The bickering continued uninterrupted.  It was quieter, but the tone was distinctive.  What on earth made me think they’d stop simply because I told them to?  Who do I think I am; their mother?

Within a few short minutes, the voices were loud and the timbre was getting nasty.  I sighed.  Banister bellowing wasn’t going to make the grade.  I had to go down there and walk amongst them.

At the living room doorway I stood, hands on hips, and looked at them.  Josie was in her father’s recliner.  Eli was on the couch, remote control in hand.  I had an idea that the television was the source of the disagreement.  Most likely, Josie didn’t want to watch Ice Road Truckers.  Was it ‘Survivor’ night?

“We aren’t fighting, Mum.”  This time, Eli took the high road, which involves trying to mislead his mother so she’ll skedaddle more quickly and let him get on with the business at hand.

“Yes.  This time, we are!” vowed his loving sister—no doubt hoping that her honesty would result in Eli getting the lion’s share of any blame.  If she could get him in trouble, maybe he’d have to give up control of the TV.

“What’s up, guys?  You hardly ever fight anymore.”

“Exactly,” said Jos.  “So this one’s a freebie.”

I really hate it when I have to admit that I admire a smart mouth.  Especially when it’s directed at me.  I sighed. 
J&E, 2011

“Josie, you haven’t washed the supper dishes yet.  Eli, you have laundry to fold.  Do your chores now, please, and stop this.  I don’t like to hear you fight.  It makes me feel bad.”

Well, it does.  I’ve never liked conflict—especially when it involves people I love.  But in all honesty, I hoped that by throwing that comment into the mix, they’d care enough about my feelings to settle their differences before the situation devolved into a full-blown ruckus.  A ruckus in which I would have to be the ‘bad guy’.  It was a little manipulative, sure.  But I’m just a mother who—after thirty years of ‘practice’ raising children—still doesn’t have a handle on what—exactly—will work.

I went back upstairs and tried to re-enter ‘the zone’.  But my concentration was gone; my good mood diminished.  It was quiet down below.  I didn’t hear water running in the kitchen sink; didn’t hear the laundry room door open and close.  But it was quiet.

For almost five minutes.

These Pease kids are stubborn.  They don’t back down.  They were each determined to ‘win’ whatever prize was at stake.  They simply couldn’t allow the other to have the last word.  I don’t know where they got that trait, but it’s annoying as heck.

The sounds of irritation and sarcasm floated up through the floor.  I’d just about had it!  I pushed away from my desk and stomped to the top of the stairs.  If I could hear their hushed arguing, then they could certainly hear my determined footsteps above their heads. 

Prepared to lay down the law once and for all, I braced my hands on the banister.

Silence. Not a single human sound from downstairs.

For three minutes I stood there, saying nothing.  They knew where I was.  Their ears had followed my obvious progression.  They were playing it safe.  Opponents when left to their own devices, they were now united in their desire to avoid my wrath.  I nodded my head in satisfaction.  There!  They knew they were on the edge and that the tipping point was imminent, unless they quit their bickering, post-haste!

This time, I won a full ten minutes.  I re-read what I’d written and began to compose the next stanza in my head.  But then…those sounds.  Those irritating—and now disobedient-- sounds.

I shrieked.  I hate to admit it, but I did.

“You two CUT THAT OUT!  NOW!  You’re going to wake up your father!” Yes, that was as lame as it gets.  As lame as I get!  Steven would never wake up to the sounds of their distant grumbling but he would stir when a one-hundred-decibel shout was emitted twelve feet away from where he lay sleeping.

This time, the two teens responded in unison. 
J&E, 2012

“We’re NOT fighting!”

“Well, cut it out, anyway!”

There.  That would show them!  That would get me the respect I deserve!

Oh, brother.  Being the optimistic sort, I have no doubt I’ll know what I’m doing by Year Thirty-two.  Until then, I’ll comfort myself with the knowledge that I got the ‘last word.’

And I’ll bet it’s annoying as heck. 

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