Brother Vs. Brother

The shoe would have hit me had I not stopped mid-stride. Instead it banged off the wall and fell sloppy across the floor. The boy that threw it followed his shot, throwing the second shoe quick and true. It found its target in his stomach just as he rounded the couch some six feet away. The older boy brushed away the sting of sole and laces and made for his brother, who, fresh out of shoes, ran barefoot in my general direction.

“Stop,” I said, and while their feet complied their mouths did just the opposite.

“He did it,” said one.

“He started it,” said the other.

“It’s his fault.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

And the room filled with the sound of excuses and tales being tattled.

“Quiet,” I said. “What is going on?”

Then one told a story and the other interrupted. Then the youngest gave his version despite his brother’s protest. They were angry and wronged and the matter was so amazingly trivial that it slipped my mind as soon as I heard it.

They demanded retribution. They demanded justice.

I demanded they not throw shoes at each other.

“I wasn’t throwing shoes,” said the youngest — the same child I had watched throw shoes just moments before. “I was kicking him from far away.”

They said their apologies by rote and went about the business of playtime. It passed as a minor scrimmage in the ongoing war between brothers. The war, however, is far from over.

My boys are sweet, and they play very well together. They have each other’s backs, and spend more time hugging than bickering, but when the claws come out the claws come out, literally. A fight over some toy in the dark, when they should both be asleep, winds up with scratches on cheeks and bruises on pajama-covered thighs. Then come cries in the night that negate bedtime kisses with tears and tension, leaving the entire family frazzled and frustrated.

We have tried reason, gentle tones, harsh words, raised voices, bribes, threats, and, I’m not proud of this, a good layer of guilt. Nothing works and everything is a band-aid solution.

There are knots at the end of my rope, and they are tied in contradiction and regret. Years of level-headed parenting go out the window in one loud-mouthed snap. They are fighting each other, and I take it way too personally.

The shoe landed on my lap. “Daddy, can you help me get the knots out?”

I could have asked him the same thing.

Then he ran out the door to where his brother stood waiting, and they continued fast upon the meadow. They hardly fought for hours.

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