Sometimes my children forget how to get along. Actually, they seem to forget so often that I wonder if they actually know how. Maybe those times of tender sibling love were just serendipitous accidents that I am destined to never see again.
This week, while my husband and I joyfully practiced ringing bells at the church, the older two roamed the building unsupervised. They each have a same-aged companion, siblings whose mother is also in the bell choir. They are allowed to roam rather than stay in the nursery with Hal because, in theory, they are old enough for the responsibility.
The dispute concerned possession of a certain mid-sized purple bouncy ball. Daryl had grabbed the ball from the communal toy chest and brought it with him from home, thus believing this gave him at least temporary ownership of the ball. He and his friend played with it for quite awhile.
Unfortunately, Jane remembered that she had earned that ball by redeeming reading points at school two or three years earlier. It was her ball. It was supposed to reside behind her door in her room, but apparently Hal had taken it and it had eventually ended up in the toy chest. As the boys played, I can only assume that the desire to assert her rightful ownership of the ball simply became too strong. When the opportunity presented itself, she snagged the ball.
This resulted, predictably, in protests from the boys. They demanded its return. She insisted the ball belonged to her. Daryl insisted that it was his to play with because he had brought it. She refused to return it and, with the benefit of greater height, was easily able to keep it from his reach.
Daryl became frustrated and began slapping at her arm. Such inappropriate behavior! He can’t slap her arm. So, she took the next reasonable step, as she saw it. She grabbed his wrist to stop the slapping.
He wanted to get away but she wouldn’t let go of his arm. He was trapped! She has no right to restrain him. He yelled for her to let him go. She refused. So he took the next reasonable step, as he saw it. He bit her arm.
An outrage! She dropped his wrist. It was obviously time to get the parents involved. She stormed off to inform us of her brother’s great sin. We were cornered as we helped put the bells away. She gave her tale and showed the bite marks on her arm.
Her tale, not surprisingly, left out a few details. We were told that Daryl tried to take something that was hers and when she wouldn’t give it to him, he bit her. That didn’t sound quite right.
“How do we know you didn’t just bite yourself and claim he did it?”
“Why would I do that?!”
“Well, you’ve done it before. Back in Kindergarten, you made it a habit to bite yourself and blame your little brother. You even once tried it at school, blaming a boy in line. The teacher called us very concerned.”
She thought I was crazy, but I actually had her bite her arm around the existing bite marks to prove that her mouth was too big for the marks on her arm. Then we went in search of Daryl. And the truth.
Daryl tried to deny biting his sister. We showed the bite marks. He said he hadn’t bitten her that hard. We showed him the bite marks. He insisted that he had only bitten her because she was holding his wrist and wouldn’t let go.
That provoked us to ask Jane why she held his arm, which exposed the slapping. Asking Daryl why he slapped exposed the ball snagging. And so on.
Children have a habit of only sharing the part of the story that makes themselves look good and their nemesis bad. Sometimes you have to take multiple accounts or play them off of each other to get the full picture. Even then, it is next to impossible to get them to see their own personal role in the disaster.
Jane actually tried to tell us that while she might not have handled it well and might have lost her cool, there wouldn’t have been a problem if the boys had just left them alone. Her father responded that there also wouldn’t have been a problem if we hadn’t come to church.
The truly humorous part in all this is that at one point earlier in the afternoon, I saw some kids trot past the bell choir room while we were playing. I had one of those heart-swelling moments that made me tear up. They are making memories, I thought. You shape your kids’ lives in part by where your activities place them. They are here at church playing with friends and hearing beautiful music and witnessing their parents in something bigger than themselves. This seems like simple day-to-day stuff but no telling what impact this will have on them. I even planned to blog about that. And then an indignant sixth grader approached me with Exhibit A on her wrist.