There is a constant I suppose when you've two children (or more I'm sure) that they will bicker and this will drive you crazy, or not, depending on your achievements in the world of zen meditation and your state of sleep-deprivation. Sunday morning we were up at five. I came to pick the boys up at their father's at six to head to the TGV station in Avignon. It's an easy drive, and they, being so eager to see Gramma and their cousins, were ready to leap into the car -- is this why we forgot to double check to see if they'd packed their tooth brushes and bathing suits? In any case, it was an easy trip, at least the first forty-five minutes of it. Leo babbled to me about his week, and Jonas piped up a bit as well. Leo had had a glorious time at the beach with friends and Jonas had watched oodles of TV -- what's new? Neither had put a brush to their teeth since I'd last seen them Friday morning at school eight days earlier. I dared not ask about baths.
Before getting in the train, it began. I offered the two of them each a book for their trip, and Leo, rather than looking at his, pushed it aside and wanted to read his brother's. Ticked off that Jonas preferred to look at the images of his book than to have his brother read the text to him, he sulked, tried to rip the book out of his hands, and sulked some more.
"Leo, remember when you were little? you liked looking at the pictures too and figuring out the story yourself. Why not let Jonas do so? then afterwards you can read the text to him."
"But I didn't have a big brother to read to me, so he should let me read to him."
hm, touché, yet how to explain that it was a good thing that his brain learned to decipher imagery and create his own imaginary tale? That the text is great, but not necessary?
Onwards. In the train, I was able to avert immediate melt-down by reading a magic treehouse book to Jonas. This one was on the Civil War. These books are simply marvelous and as a family we are devouring them. Leo enjoys listening in when I read to Jonas -- occasionally replacing me if I'm unable to finish a book --, and he learns perhaps even more than his brother. Being raised in France, the American Civil War, our history of slavery, the realities of that brutal time is completely foreign to them.
An hour later, book finished, the early rising starting to weigh upon us all, I suggested to Leo that I read him some of the new book I'd offered him. Not particularly interested, he permitted me to, but wasn't into it. And not being into it, and having his brother right in front of him, the bickering and teasing and toe stabbing and kicking, etc., etc., began.
Jonas has that classic younger kid way of putting up with just about anything and not complaining. Go ahead Leo, twist my foot, step on it, push back my toes, that doesn't hurt. (I remember something of the same between me and my older brother...). Leo pushed harder, twisted harder, and then when there was no reaction forthcoming, went to give him a kick in his privates. OK, time to intervene, that's enough. But nothing I say seems to work -- cajoling, threatening, nudging, distracting, menacing. I switched seats, and at last they shifted to a game of cards. From that point till our arrival at our destination (a not quite four hour ride), they managed to stay somewhat well-behaved.
But once there, it started again. And of course, it is two-ways. Jonas provokes, Leo reacts. Leo hits, Jonas hits back. The middle finger is pointed, hair is pulled, bags are dumped, kicks are given, insults spoken... des gros mots en profusion.
And here, I lose it. It's noon, we've been up since 5, I'm tired, they're behaving abominably, and I return to my mantra: "Leo, the strong one learns not to react, to ignore, to let pass the insults and provocation. The strong are above all this. A strong horse simply lays back his ears, bears his teeth and stares down his opponent. He doesn't need to kick and bite. To be strong, you need to be above all this, learn to control your reactions. Or otherwise, it is your little obnoxious brother who is the stronger."
For Leo, nothing could be harder. How can he ignore an insult? How to not react? It's impossible. He has to get in the last hit, tap, or insult. It is his right as the elder, he must, or where goeth his pride?
"No, when you are reacting on the fly like this you are putty in the hands of your opponents, you are the weaker, you must get control of your emotions..." I'm getting a bit carried away, and then, I say the unforgivable, "if your father had learned to control his emotions -- it's called being politique -- things wouldn't be so difficult right now for him."
Ok, where did that come from? Perhaps the letter from his lawyer yesterday morning? and our rather tense discussion about it at 6AM? Why spew that at Leo?
And I got what I deserved: Out of the mouth of my babe, "it's your fault, you left Daddy, you spent too much money to buy the Avignon house. We wouldn't have so many problems if you'd stayed with Daddy."
The screens on the back of the airplane seats will change the images in their heads long before they arrive in the US. But, for me, it will resonate, and the truth of what Leo thinks and feels is there to consider, and, somehow, deal with.