Among the pearls of wisdom I wish to impart to my eldest child is the following: when you are among the smallest in your class, hyper-verbal, overly sensitive to other people’s opinion of you, and weigh only slightly more than your mother’s flip-flips, it is not particularly smart to taunt another child, particularly one who resembles a Mack Truck with hair.
Wait. I don’t have to teach Zach that lesson. His younger brother is taking care of it for me, one injury at a time.
Zachary, you see, has a damned road map to his brother’s buttons, and he delights in nothing so much as pushing them.
“You can’t play with those,” he snaps, to which Benjamin replies, “I want it!”
“You’re a baby,” he taunts, to which Benjamin replies, “I not a baby; you a baby.”
“I had it first and I’m going to put you in jail and take away all your food and lock you up and then you’ll be dead,” he yells. At which point Benjamin pokes Zachary in the eye with the stick for playing the triangle. (The triangle is no longer playable in our home, due to the confiscation of said stick.)
J frets about this, but I reassure him that it is normal. Siblings fight, I tell him. We have to let them work it out themselves, I sagely intone.
Lately, however, I am starting to think maybe it is beyond acceptable in our house. It seems we get an awful lot of surprised stares as Zachary comes into preschool with yet another black eye or lump on his head. “How did you get that bruise?” the teacher asks. It seems that by this point she could cut out the chit-chat and just ask, “What did your brother do to you this time?”
(Although, in fairness to Benjamin, the first black eye was totally Zachary’s fault, as he fell off a stool while playing Go Fish and hit himself on the corner of a table. Go Fish is now considered a contact sport in our house.)
Zach whales on his brother plenty, don’t get me wrong. While it is usually Zach starting it and Ben finishing it, sometimes it is the other way around. And while Benjamin acts out of frustration, Zach has the finely tuned cruelty of an older sibling.
I worry because Benjamin is getting in the habit of resorting to physical violence, which does not help our efforts to keep him from shoving the other children in the preschool. I worry because it feels like kids shouldn’t end up in tears this frequently. And I really worry because one day, one of these kids could end up really hurt.
God help us if I ever decide I need to start blow-drying my hair.
So, I guess I’m asking you all: at what point is it out of hand? When do we have to worry? How much fighting is normal between siblings?
In the meantime, rest assured: we never leave Lilah alone in the room with them. And if we do, we arm her with a toy school bus.