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November 10, 2012

Despite all the fighting, sometimes the kids get along

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The Daily Star

---- — The sibling thing will always leave me flummoxed.

To recap, briefly, for those who don’t know the backstory: I was an only child. My husband, who has an older sister, and I knew that if we had one child, we’d have two because it just seemed like the best idea to have a spare. 

We briefly toyed with having three — but came to our senses just after we’d had the Boy. The idea of shifting from man-on-man defense to zone was overwhelming. Still is, frankly.

Barring miraculous acts beyond our control, we will remain a family of four.

But I will never understand why there must be so much bickering between the youngest two. A day without bickering would be like a day without oxygen.

The Diva loves to complain about how I don’t understand what it’s like to have an irritating little brother who goes out of his way to ruin everything she could ever find enjoyable. Yes, she can be a little hyperbolic. I wonder where she gets it?

The Boy mostly ignores her, which frustrates her more than any response ever could. He gets his licks in more subtly by touching her stuff or leaving her socks where the dog can get them. 

(And speaking of the dog, we now entered her bratty adolescent stage where she can’t resist snarfling up any human object and running around the house with it in her mouth because she knows she shouldn’t. This includes more socks than I can even count, ditto underpants, my left slipper, and a mini-stuffed hippopotamus who makes a rude sound when you squeeze him. The most memorable was a toy light that slips onto your finger and flashes when you turn it on. Somehow, she bit it in just the right way to make the light strobe, illuminating the inside of her mouth. It was like chasing a dog through a rave. Next time, I’ll break out the glowsticks.)

The kids’ newest battleground is the car radio, which is a nice change, frankly, from all of the nonsense about whether the backseat armrest should be up or down. They don’t argue over the station — apparently, 103.9 is the only station to listen to and the protest when I change to NPR is mighty — but about who gets to sing along.

The Diva is of the opinion that no one should sing, especially her brother, because he “ruins it.” The Boy believes he should be allowed to sing because a) it annoys the crap out of his sister and b) he likes to sing. 

Lately, he also likes to listen to the radio in his room while he’s falling asleep. Usually, it’s pop songs, because Katy Perry is so soothing, I guess. Every now and again, however, he’ll come down and ask me to put Prairie Home Companion on, even though we’ve explained countless times that the radio doesn’t function like a DVR. 

My opinion on who gets to sing in the car is irrelevant. (But between you and me, kids singing along makes me smile, like we might have done something right as parents.)

There is no negotiating with either party, it turns out. I’ve suggested alternating songs, which would make both parties equally unhappy and was a non-starter. 

I’ve suggested Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as singing days with Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays as quiet enjoyment days with Sunday subject to a coin toss. That was crazy talk.

I’ve gone through phases when I’ve decided to let the market sort it out, which leads to Congressional levels of shrieking and slapping. I’ve turned the radio off, which had the same results.

The issue, of course, isn’t the radio qua radio; the issue is that I can’t do much about what’s going on in the backseat when I’m driving. I could pull over, I guess, and refuse to move until they stopped acting like poo-flinging monkeys but our daily drives are so short that stopping for five minutes to referee would effectively double our time spent in the car. Which is silly.

I wonder sometimes if it would have been better to just have one kid because all of this bickering just can’t be healthy. From my perspective, it looks like they really can’t stand each other. But there are moments that change my mind.

The last time we flew somewhere, the two of them sat on the floor at the flight’s gate and made up stories for an hour. There was no fighting, just two kids keeping each other amused. It took all of my will to keep from asking if the gate agents were pumping tranquilizers into the air. 

And the other day when we were driving home from school, I snapped at the Boy for reasons I can no longer remember. “You didn’t have to yell at him,” his sister said. 

It took all of my will to keep from snapping back, “because you’re the only one who gets to?”

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of “Sweater Quest.” Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.