“You have been bad children today.”
I uttered these words through gritted teeth tonight after Lucille and Eliza started fighting for the 10,000th time since the sun came up. I say 10,000th time as though there were breaks in the bickering. There were no breaks, really, all day, so maybe it was the 10,000th time I heard my name or the 10,000th time Lucille squealed Eliza’s name or may it was the 10,000th time Eliza snatched something precious from Lucille or maybe it was the other way around. Who knows.
I do know that bad children sounded a little harsh as soon as it left my lips and at the same time I very much meant it.
They stopped in their tracks and looked at me as though I had said the unthinkable.
“Well it’s true!” I said. My indigent attitude failing to make up for being crappy to my children.
“We’re not bad childs!” Lucille said as she ran across the room to bury her face in a pillow.
What century are we living in, I thought. Bad children? Have you been reading to much Dickens? Bad children? Try, mama. Just try a little.
But I was at the end of long day of sibling fighting. Injustices hurled one from the other. A car ride turned tense. The threat of a harmful blow with a pocket swiss army knife. A yoga mat to the head purposefully. Constant negotiation. “Use your words” went out the window around 10 a.m. only to be replaced with “don’t hit your sister again!”
They hurled I hate yous at each other, they stuck their tongues out at each other, they kicked, spit and hollered I wish you weren’t my sister. They didn’t reserve their venom for just each other. At one point Eliza looked me square in the eye and said, “Mom, you know, sometimes I don’t like you very much.”
To be clear this was before I told her and her sister they were being bad children. The words “right back at ya kid” rolled into my mouth but I kept them there. I washed the dishes and realized that Eliza had truly hurt my feelings.
I told her so and she assured me that she loved me but that she just didn’t like me very much sometimes. This was clearly supposed to make me feel better.
I went for a run. And I dreamed of a house. With four bedrooms, three bathrooms and walk-in closets. Oh, and a full finished basement. With a giant television that I could plop them in front of on days like today. I also dreamed of a leaving my give-a-damn at the door so I could embrace all of these things and flip through a magazine while sipping whiskey as they watched a movie on a Sunday afternoon and left each other the hell alone.
It was nice, my fantasy.
Then I rounded the corner on the final approach to our tiny house only to see Seth as frustrated and at the end of his rope as I had been earlier. Lucille pulled her bike to the end of the alley.
“Eliza’s at Coopers. We’re going to play in the water,” she said.
I escorted her to Cooper’s house, said hello to his parents and headed home without saying much else.
As I rode away I composed a text to Cooper’s mom in my mind. Here they are. They are far happier here with you than they have been with me all day. I’ll be back in an hour, after a shower and an attitude adjustment. Oh, and thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
An hour later I had showered and taken a deep breath. I met the girls at the intersection of the “big” road and ours in our neighborhood. Lucille had on a rainbow tie dye swim shirt, blue and gray tie die bike shorts, her sister’s old checkerboard Vans and her light-up helmet tipped back on her head. Eliza had on a pair of boxer briefs, cowboy boots and a headband around her head Willie Nelson style. My ragamuffins, but they seemed happy for the break from two grumpy parents. I know I was pretty grateful for a little time without them and for my people who will take my kids and a few words without asking me to explain. I was even grateful for bad children in that moment as I watched them approach on their bikes, for Eliza’s honesty and for the chance to get up tomorrow and try again.