I was counting my pennies Friday afternoon when a sound from my childhood echoed throughout the house. It was the “thwack” of plastic hitting a dead end. In flashback I saw the 70’s inspired paisley plate sitting in front of me covered with spaghetti. I didn’t know Melamine could pack such a mean punch. When it left my hand and sailed across the room it was like a party popper chock full of noodles that exploded on impact. Had my aim had been better the plate would have hit my brother instead of the ceiling beam. He deserved a mop head of spaghetti but only got a shower down his back.
I’d reached my limit after hours of teasing. No doubt he’d set me off with a comment about my hair or clothes and I was fed up. My mother now had a mess of marinara on her floor. The look on her face said run. I went out the back door faster than a road runner. I knew I had to hide until she was calm or I’d be grounded for life, or at least the rest of high school.
Stacey, a neighborhood friend, was home. I could take refuge at her place. Since our mothers were friends I knew my asylum would be short-lived. It lasted longer than I expected which could only mean one thing. My mother was “fuming mad!” – A phrase my brother and I evoked often. When the call came I knew I had to slink home and pay the piper. It wouldn’t be pretty but neither is spaghetti on the kitchen floor. On the other hand it had a certain Picasso look. The image of my brother’s shocked face felt worth whatever price I had to pay.
My brother constantly pestered me. He’d describe it exactly the opposite way portraying himself as the victim with a halo. I know otherwise. His life’s work was to tease me. He did it well. I had no choice but to fight back and I did whenever I could. When I heard the crash upstairs telling me my children were at it again I couldn’t help but think what goes around comes around! Around and around like a bad penny never taken out of circulation.
This is my life with teenage boys that love to bicker. I don’t think they know how to communicate any other way. When you tell them to knock-it-off they say, “We’re just having a conversation.” Yes, one that sounds like a Presidential debate. Back and forth they go determined to prove their position on matters of great importance like iTunes or Spotify. If there’s an argument to be made they’ll find it. Is Aerosmith the greatest band of all time or Kiss? One puts the toilet paper on to pull from the top the other in the reverse. The younger of the two is a neat freak, the older a slob making them a true Odd Couple.
To my mother the payback is amusing. “They’re not as bad as you and your brother,” she tells me. When they start in on each other she laughs. I fume. They’re birds of a feather that stick together-pecking at each other all day long. I’m constantly shooing them with, “Stop it!”
This is what I thought I’d have to do in response to the unidentified noise upstairs. Isolate the problem and break them up. I braced myself for whatever I might find when I opened the door. To my surprise, it wasn’t Luke’s trophy shelf pulled to the ground like I’d imagined. It was Chase putting his spilled treasure box back together after showing Luke a raffle ticket he’d bought.
“Luke, if I win the $1,000 I’ll share it with you. We can both buy something really cool.”
“Thanks Chase but you don’t have to do that.”
“No, I want to Luke. You’re a great big brother.” Chase wrapped his arms around Luke’s middle and got a pat on the back in return. I stand in the doorway embarrassed by my rush to judgment.
“What’s up Mom? Luke asks.
“Oh nothing, I just came to check on you guys.”
“You thought we were arguing,” Luke said.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Yeah, well you’re wrong. We’re just having a conversation!” Chase said.
So it goes between these two. One minute they’re mortal enemies locked in combat the next best friends. I went back to my counting and thought their relationship is like these pennies. Sometimes it seems small and petty but other times bright and shiny. Some days it looks smooth and others the edges are rough. What looks like an insignificant experience becomes a treasured moment. Two hearts knit together by wrestling through life.
It’s maddening and lately I question my desire for two children instead of just one. I assumed my brother and I fought because we weren’t the same sex. That myth has been debunked. I’ve seen sisters fight like cats you want to spray with water. Other parents tell me it doesn’t matter the age or gender. It’s “normal”. When the boys assure me of the same thing I assure them my frustration is also “normal”.
Living with it is the challenge. If they aren’t getting physical with each other and the arguments are not mean-spirited I have to let it go. I know they are testing each other. They’re exploring the boundaries of their relationship to see how far it will take them. Like a married couple, after the honeymoon stage, they’ve decided they can finally be themselves. That’s what makes a relationship meaningful – the opportunity to be loved for who you really are not your false self.
Maybe God can relate to how I feel? His children bicker about everything too. From the most pressing problems like our economy to trivial things like American Idol – if there’s something to argue about we’ll find it. If a bad joke can be made we’ll make it. Then we turn around and question why God isn’t intervening. We sulk when we’re grounded complaining about what we believe is unjust. We don’t ask ourselves what we might be doing wrong. It’s always the other guys fault. Like I blamed my brother and he blamed me.
How my parent’s survived I don’t know. How God tolerates it amazes me more. If I had lightning bolts at my disposal I’d use them. One word from Chase about Luke’s hair and zap he’s got none of his own. Restraint, however, is the better part of valor. Just like my parents let Craig and I figure it out, I can assume God does the same. He’s not going to intervene unless he absolutely has too. He values relationships growing deeper over the divide and conquer approach. He wants to see us work it out on our own.
In the meantime, just like Chase – God is willing to share his treasure. His unmerited favor is ours for the asking. It’s called grace. He offers it with the hope that we’ll extend the same to our brothers and sisters. Grace is the great equalizer. It says I will respectfully disagree. I value you enough to love you even if I don’t like you. It tells someone who doesn’t deserve your kindness that they do. It never throws things, and it always honors its Father.
Brotherly love doesn’t always equal peace but it does require grace. Maybe that’s what God is waiting for mankind to learn? With eternity on his side He’s got plenty of time to wait. Hopefully the adults in this world can figure that out sooner than my kids!