Okay, so let's take the sibling rivalry thing for granted - and don't tell me if your kids don't have that going on, because I really just don't want to know.
(Note: saying my kids never fight is up there in the Things Most Likely to Get You Flattened on the Playground list. It trails oh, my baby slept through the night from day one! but not by much. Capisce?)
So, we have sibs. We have arguments. We have me, periodically debating the usefulness of work it out for yourselves (translation: Eldest, you have to work this out, because your little brother is too young to be reasonable at this moment/on this issue, and I'm not getting involved) and if you started it, then I think it was fair that he walloped you (translation: violence breeds violence, and you guys are clearly going to have to learn that the hard way) with a chaser of he might've hit you first, but that was not okay behavior. And the new twist, I don't care if you hit him in an uber-dramatic way that you use when you play pretend war. If he doesn't realize that you are playing/you hit him hard enough, then it's not a game.
To some degree, the fighting is wonderfully predictable: every day, between 5-6 pm, the boys decide to play a card game. They end up arguing over the rules (have you considered going over the rules before you start?) or over the general unfairness of Milady Luck, the game, the other kid's ability to draw a higher card, Pluto's demotion, and so on. Bitter voices rise, and someone flings cards with dramatic flair, someone else huffs off with admirable style.
A couple of months ago, I began playing Go Fish with the Toddles. By that point, he was persuaded that No Good could come of anything involving a deck of cards, but we turned Go Fish into a game of elaborate suggestions regarding the potential piscine population of lakes from Oregon to the Carolinas. Not to mention the occasional muddy puddle. The giggles eventually netted the Eldest, who began to play. And voila! I congratulated myself, the boys were playing games of manners and ritualized, cheerful jokes. I had rescued cards.
This is, of course, the turning point in the story - just as I'm feeling rather glossy and satisfied as a parent. Ready? Bladders empty? Okay, then.
Yesterday, driving home from various activities, both boys in tow, I heard one ask another for a dodo.
Do you have any dodos?
Why yes, I do! I have seven.
Oh, good - there are eight dodos in a kodak.*
Do you have any orange dump trucks?
Oh, no - I only have drawbridges.
Oh, but I fished my wish! Great. Mom? Mom? Do you have any orange dump trucks? We're playing imaginary Go Fish.
And then we were off and running. We fished for drawbridges, cassowaries, extraordinarily long words by absolutely fictitious people (like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), molybdenum and something igneous, but I couldn't tell you exactly what. Oh, and any number of bodily functions.
I was managing a tricky merge when, HEY! Give me back my cards!
Oh. Sorry. Here you go.
The Eldest exploded. Those are NOT my cards. Give me back my cards, you dimwit! MOM - make him give me back my cards!
He has your cards?
YES, I was told, emphatically. And he says that he gave them back, but these are NOT MY CARDS. My cards are much BETTER.
I couldn't eyeball the kid, to see if there was a twitch in his expression - but it didn't sound as if there was. Sorry, said the Toddles, still trying to play along. Here, these ones are yours.
There was a brief thoughtful moment in the back, and then an irate thwack, followed by an equal thwock. And to my astonishment, the Eldest began to wail.
He - he - MOM! he peeked! At my CARDS!
At which point, I did the sensible, loving thing, and laughed my ass off.
* kodak = set