WASHINGTON, July 4, 2012 — That’s what my Nana used to tell me and my cousins when we’d argue or fight. She’d implore us to be nice about it. That taught me two things: a) fighting is a part of life and b) there is a nice way to do it.
No name calling. No biting. No weapons.
A few months after they turned nine, Jake and Zach got into their first real fight. We wondered, “How did this happen? They went to a nice private school with well-behaved Jewish children.”
My parents live in a less-enlightened area of the world, among houses built in the Seventies and attitudes cultivated in the Fifties. It’s called suburbia. Men still believe communism is a major threat to world peace. They drink Brandy Alexanders and talk about their lawns. Women in the neighborhood wear aprons, walk their kids to the bus stop, and discuss ways to marinate whatever dead animals they have in the “Frigidaire.” The girls all play with dolls and the boys double dog dare each other into spitting contests for baseball cards. In this type of environment, a good old-fashioned butt whipping was bound to happen.
There goes the neighborhood
We spend a lot of time with my parents. Despite differences in religion, world outlook, and overall temperament, we love them and they love us. I suppose on some level, as long as my children aren’t left with lasting physical or emotional scars, I’m okay with the lessons they are learning on their grandparents’ front lawn.
Two scrappy Irish kids live next door; we’ll call them Patrick and Sean. They’d been playing with my children for years. Patrick is older, by about three years. Sean, Jake, and Zach are the same age. Sometimes they would play with light sabers and other neighborhood kids always joined in for major galactic battles between good and evil.
These light sabers were made with sticks and tinfoil and had been certified “crazy insane” by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. From time to time, light sabers and attitudes could get out of hand. One day, Patrick’s light saber hit Zachary in the ear.
“Hey!” Zach rubbed the side of his head. “That’s against the rules.”
Apparently, there were rules. Kids could hit each other in the legs and torso area. If someone took out a testicle? They had to handle it. Anything above the neck? Off limits. On this particular morning, Patrick didn’t much care for the rules.
“What are you going to do about it?” Patrick asked.
Just a few feet away, Jacob bravely defended a rebel fleet from Sean, the imperial storm trooper. They seemed to catch on to the ensuing drama between their brothers and started playing with just a tad more hostility than usual. Oops, Sean’s light saber hit Jacob in the head.
“Sean,” Jake said, “you’re not fighting fair and I’m uncomfortable with that.”
Right hand to God, those were the kid’s exact words. As if logic and good communication works with neighbors who play outside without shirts on. Sean threw down his weapon and said, “Put ‘em up.”
Where was I? It’s no secret that a modern liberal feminist such as myself is a bit out of place in this environment. Most visits, I’m inside biting my nails and wondering why we didn’t stay in a northeastern city or move to a nice commune somewhere in Oregon. I tried to intervene, but Marc and Stepdad insisted our precious boys handle it themselves.
“We’re not pacifists,” Marc said.
“Fine,” I snapped. “But if someone pokes an eye out, I’ll sue.”
Jacob backed into the garage and tried to run inside. Marc poked his head out the side door and said, “Defend yourself, son.”
Another moment later, Zachary tried to sneak away as well. “Don’t leave your brother’s side,” Marc told him at the front door.
“They’re trying to get out of it,” I said. “Nonviolent resistance.”
“Not on my watch,” Marc and Stepdad said.
Jacob and Zachary had no choice really. They balled up their fists and started swinging. The fistfight ended in a matter of seconds. Sean got clocked in the mouth and Patrick aimed too high, spun around, and Zachary nabbed him in the back of the head.
They ran home crying and vowing revenge.
Jacob and Zachary came inside, shook up and teary-eyed, but triumphant nonetheless. Marc told them they better never go looking for a fight, but shouldn’t be afraid to defend themselves. I put ice on sore knuckles and bruised ears, comforted that my growing boys still needed hugs and kisses from Mommy after their first major rumble.
The following week, I went shopping with my mother and when we returned to her house, we found all four boys in the pool while Marc fired up the grill and Stepdad tended to the lawn. I shrugged my shoulders, put on an apron, and got out the Brandy.
When in suburbia, after all…
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