To have and to hold, and sometimes to choke

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Clearly, in any attempt to effectively manage or overthrow fierce dictators bent on forcing their will on a helpless populace, it is imperative that our country’s ambassadors be well versed in conflict resolution and the careful handling of narcissistic personalities bent on personal victory at all costs.

Diplomatic. Ideally, these people should be parents. Not until I had children did I realize how much of this parenting gig was all about diplomatic relations.

For all the talk of how ideal it was that my children were spaced almost exactly two years apart, presumably so they could grow up close to each other, it was never made clear that this actually meant “close enough to poke the other’s eye out.”

It is said that you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer. It may be assumed, then, that you should keep your siblings closest. Directly under your foot might be good.

Referee. I now routinely spend my days refereeing blatant acts of aggression, in-fighting, and attempted coups on the part of my 6-year-old son or 4-year-old daughter.

Each of whom sprung from birth fully equipped and eminently capable of arguing to the end of time over such crucial life altering decisions such as who has the biggest piece (of what? Who cares?)

Size is key. The item in question could be a clump of mud. It wouldn’t matter.

Who went “first” last time; and who has dibs on any and every thing in (as my son has actually claimed) “the whole world to infinity plus six.” Repeat as needed.

Only child. Granted, this might be a non-issue for the average parent, but I am operating under one glaring handicap: I was an only child.

As a result I am utterly incapable of grasping what makes window seating, the blue cup, or being first in or out of any door so crucial that one would be moved to tears over not achieving any or all of these aims.

My husband, one of four children and – it might be worth mentioning, the only boy – finds my utter incomprehension fascinating.

It is, as he puts it, as only a person who spent too many carefree years riding shotgun and having to share nothing would think.

I know not the fight to the death over the red toothbrush or what that means for all future negotiations if one should actually suffer the indignity, and resultant weakness, of losing.

No insight. Thus, I cannot understand why my two otherwise loving, sweet, and caring children can be stirred to shove each other brutally over which one gets to push a shopping cart, for example.

Or that my obvious solution that they take turns would simply disseminate into a secondary struggle over who would push “first.”

“First” being a term that I hope to abolish from the English language along with “always” and “never.” As in “you always let him go first” and “You never let me do anything!”

It helps if your children are sufficiently dramatic so that each of these utterances is accompanied by hand wringing and the flinging of themselves to the floor in a performance worthy of vintage Olivier.

Drama. Extra points are awarded if a child can shriek, as if in pain, “he’s looking at me!” in a frequency heard only by dogs, beleaguered parents, and certain childless people who are always convinced that their children, if they had any, would never behave that way.

Of course, as a result of my only child status, I was also not well versed in the stealthy, and seemingly innocuous way that sibling torture can occur.

Our 4-year-old daughter recently appeared before me sobbing and clearly in real distress. Upon hearing that her brother had been “kicking” her, I was moved to set aside my usual “don’t ask, don’t tell” position on tattling and call in the big guns – namely me.

Rushing upstairs to confront the culprit with my still sobbing, but now deliciously martyred daughter in tow, I cornered the alleged perpetrator at the scene of the crime and let him have it.

Oops. Coming up for air only long enough to pause in my “we do not, and I mean do not, ever hit or kick a person in this family mister” diatribe, I was met with his incredulous reply: “But mommy, I wasn’t kicking her, I was kissing her.”

Which just goes to show that when it comes to even the most otherwise loving siblings, sometimes a kiss is just a kiss; but other times, it’s a little more like a declaration of war.

Immunity. So what’s a mother got to do to get a little diplomatic immunity?

(Kymberly Foster Seabolt has actually uttered the phrase “don’t even think about your sister!” She welcomes comments (and parenting tips) c/o kseabolt@epohi.com or P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

About the Author

Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless. More Stories by Kymberly Foster Seabolt

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