Matt and I are sitting on the couch trying to find a movie to watch, all the kids tucked into bed, when we hear the angry scuffle and resulting screech. Matt is halfway up the stairs before I even manage to untangle myself from my blankets. There is a lot of screaming going on.
When I get to the boys’ bedroom, G is lying face down on his bed, sobbing. Matt is leading O, also sobbing, to the bathroom and trying to get him to take his hands down from his face. He finally does, and we see the blood in his mouth and on his fingers, and when O sees it he starts crying even more. B and Q are jumping around us, trying to explain what happened.
“He punched me in the mouth,” wails O.
“I didn’t punch him,” G growls between sobs.
These are the parenting moments I’m never prepared for: one child’s word against the other’s, blood and tears, two children sobbing and screaming, and the other two “uninvolved” children trying their very best to get as involved as possible by telling Matt and I exactly what they’re pretty sure they think happened in the bedroom in the dark.
As I’m trying to sort through the madness, Matt says from the bathroom, “How many teeth did O lose this week?”
One. He lost one.
Wrong. There are two missing. More insanity, as O crumbles even further into hysteria and Matt and B search the bed for the missing tooth.
I am suddenly less inclined to believe he didn’t get hit in the mouth.
But G is on his bed, frustration making his muscles taut and anger rendering him inconsolable as he insists that he DID. NOT. PUNCH. HIS. BROTHER.
“Well then, what happened?” I ask.
What happened, he says, is that he did NOT punch him. He hit O. In the mouth. With his knuckles.
Ummmmm, yeah. So pretty much that’s the definition of punching.
Which O immediately points out: “THAT’S WHAT PUNCHING IS!” he shrieks.
G is in tears again, because he knows he’s in so, so much trouble. And that technically, yeah, he definitely punched his brother. And knocked out one of his loose teeth. But he explains that after we tucked them in and left the room, O started singing and humming. He asked O to stop, please, because he couldn’t sleep. But O said that he would not stop–that he HAD to hum because that was the only way he could fall asleep. And that G asked again and again, politely, and O just ignored him and kept humming, louder and louder, until finally G lost his temper. And hit him. In the mouth. With his knuckles.
I look at O, biting down on a face cloth where his loose tooth used to be, and he won’t even make eye contact with me. So he definitely did what G says he did. Not a good enough reason to hit someone in the mouth, but still—O was kind of being a jerk. And he knows it.
As I stand there in the middle of the room in astonishment, unable to comprehend what happened—it was so nice and quiet a few minutes earlier, and now all hell has broken loose—Matt and I make eye contact as G insists again that he didn’t punch O, he hit him with his knuckles.
And I lose it. Matt does too. We’re both laughing so hard we have to leave the room because we cannot parent like that. I don’t think it sends the right message.
We retreat to our bedroom, close the door, and laugh so hard that tears roll down our cheeks. I’m holding my sides because I’m laughing so hard it hurts.
“He hit him with his knuckles,” Matt gasps out, and we start laughing all over again.
B tentatively knocks on our bedroom door. I’m sure the kids are wondering what the hell we’re doing—we just walked out in the middle of the chaos and left them on their own. So we gather ourselves, wipe away our laughter-tears, and go parent again.
We sort it out. People apologize. The boys are in trouble and will be on punishment for the week—extra chores to be completed TOGETHER each day after school and early bedtimes for a few nights.
We tell them what we want each of them to learn from this: G is to keep his hands to himself and maintain self-control even when he’s angry; O is to think of how his actions affect others and to stop doing annoying things the first time he’s asked to stop.
And then Matt and I tuck them all back into bed, retreat back downstairs, and wonder at it all. Parenting is such a weird ride; we’re supposed to know how to handle situations that cannot be handled, be fair and teach lessons at every learning opportunity, sort the truth from the less-than-truthful statements, and do it all with a straight face.
I don’t know if we did it all right this time, but we made it through to fight another day. That has to count for something.