Column: Beleaguered father craves pause from claws

By JASON RECKER

My wife was never hospitalized, but back in the day, she and her sister likely could have been incarcerated for their demonic behavior.

She and one of her older sisters, the legend goes, used to engage in clawing skirmishes in which blood was shed. They scratched each other’s forearms with precision and aggression that is both amusing and alarming. My wife tells the stories with a bit of pride, like a marathoner bragging about blackened toenails or a valedictorian ragged but gloating after library all-nighters. Satisfaction follows struggle.

“We used to claw each other!” she exclaims, regaling me with stories of sisterly war. “I had scars!”

She is stirred by a gratification I, until recently, did not understand. I am an only child, always and forever safe from fingernails and comforted by memories of childhood fights that pitted me against only the warm, soft fur of stuffed animals. But my children are not only children. There are three of them, and they share their mother’s zest for domestic abuse.

They fight over basically every possible thing.

Bracelets. Underwear. Baby dolls. Toothpaste. Shoes. Soccer shin guards. The last six M&M’s in the bag. Bike helmets. Softball helmets. Light on. Light off. Who left toilet paper on the seat? Why did you take that pillow? Where is my book? Who is nicer? Who is meaner? Spoons. Forks. Knives. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Morning. Noon. Night.

Six times a day, they claim to hate each other and express their disdain with such vitriol that I often stop in my tracks and ask, out loud, “Did that really just happen?” They march right past their father, chasing each other with flip-flops in position to be deployed as missiles. Even the 2-year-old hurls sippy-cups and threatens to bite.

I really should plug my ears with my fingers and fill my mind with white noise.

“I wish you’d ...”

La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.

Think happy thoughts, Dad. Happy thoughts.

“Oh yeah? You should just go ...”

Sunshine, candy, baseball. Sunshine, candy, baseball.

They blurt insults not within the standard vocabulary of anyone aged 7 or 5. They say things unfit for church. They say things I wouldn’t even say in the self check-out line at Walmart.

My kids never please wait for assistance. They just slap each other in the mouth then raise their fists to prepare for the rebuttal. They tattle, but not before they return the bruise.

“Daaaaaad! She hit me.”

“Because she started it. She lost my bookmark.”

“Girls, enough. You’re going all Mike Tyson on each other because you can’t find a bookmark? Apologize and relax, freaks.”

“Fine. I’m sorry for losing your stupid bookmark. You can’t even read anyway.”

“I don’t ever want to see you ever again.”

Slap. Punch.

La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. Sunshine, candy, baseball. Sunshine, candy, baseball.

What inspires such pulsating snippets of hostility? The crusade can’t be worth the energy required to fight it. Both contestants, no matter their plea as guilty or innocent, often end up on the Naughty Mat.

There are times I yearn for the placid room I had all to myself when I was their age. Sure, I had nobody with whom to split chores. But after I dusted my room and dried all the dishes, I got every single E.L. Fudge cookie to myself. If Mom wanted any, she merely asked rather than kick me in the jaw and sprint down the hall, leaving a vapor trail of crumbs and defamation.

Life as a single child was lonely but serene, occasionally dull but consistently harmless. I swore merely at the Nintendo and the math workbook and engaged in but one fight. That brief brawl ended with me being piggy-backed down a hallway by a much larger, much stronger tight end.

Now, I am mediator to attacks on the half hour. Yet I often sit back, letting the first few punches fly. It’s better they learn to settle the score themselves. These sibling ambushes, I surmise, will only make them stronger. My wife and her talons can’t go one day without talking to her sister, the best friend she used to mutilate.

Tough people ignore the pain and move on, right? I’ll just assume that protocol of strength applies to second-graders and kindergartners.

Sharpen your nails, kids. First one to draw blood wins.

Jason Recker is the news editor at The Herald. His wife should scare you. His email is jrecker@dcherald.com.




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