Something's up with my kids this week. They can't get along with each other. With their nine-year age difference, I never expected them to argue, but they do. Allyson has learned to push Ethan's buttons, and he makes no attempt to rein in his temper.
For example, one day they were swinging in the backyard together after school, and I basked in the warm feelings of their sibling bond while I cooked dinner. Suddenly, Ethan's shrill, prepubescent shrieks shattered the peace. I raced outside to see if he might have been attacked by bees.
Ethan was obviously in no pain, just furious. "She's using my middle name! Make her stop!" he hissed.
"She's calling me Ethan Montgomery."
"But that's your name," I said, pretending to be mystified.
"You only call me Ethan Montgomery when I'm in trouble," he explained.
"Well, she's not doing anything wrong," I said. "I can hardly punish her for calling you by your name."
"Ethan Montgomery! Ethan Montgomery!" Allyson sang, and Ethan shrieked again.
The first couple of times, I laughed, but I quickly started fantasizing about a Calgon bath and a few swigs of my cheap cooking wine.
"MAKE IT STOP!" I pleaded mentally, of no one in particular.
There are moments when the two of them make my heart glad--like last night, when Ethan asked for a kiss goodnight and Allyson pulled down his (sweaty) head with both hands and planted a kiss on the crown of his head.
And then there are the moments like the one a few short minutes later when Allyson came into Ethan's room to wish him goodnight for the fourth time, and he snarled at her to get out of his room. Seeing her quivering lower lip and her hunched shoulders as she trudged back to bed literally brought tears to my eyes.
I think Ethan and I had a meaningful conversation when I tucked him in a bit later. I reminded him how much Allyson adores him and how much it hurts her when he's cruel. I recounted Allyson's lament a from few days earlier: "I love Ethan so, so much, but he's so mean."
Ethan was unmoved. "It's all her fault. She's just so annoying."
"Ethan, she's two (for three more weeks, anyway). Try to look past her annoying side and see the sweet side."
"I tried that," he said flatly. "She's just too annoying."
I tried to abstain from lecturing and take advantage of this opportunity to impart some wisdom; as long as I kept scratching his back, he was a captive audience. I told him how much he'd appreciate his sister someday, how much I appreciate my own brother and sisters. I asked him if he enjoys spending time with all his cousins, and he couldn't deny that he does. "If I didn't have a good relationship with my siblings, you would miss out on all those fun times," I said.
I also reminded him of how Jesus loves us even when we don't deserve it, and how he expects us to forgive others as we've been forgiven. He didn't argue that point, at least.
I told him he needs God's help in order to love Allyson even when she makes him angry.
During our bedtime prayer, I asked God to help him and Allyson see the best in each other, and asked the Holy Spirit to help Ethan guard his words.
Allyson's Mean Streak
Lest I should feel too sorry for poor little Allyson, she got into some trouble of her own this week. When Bill picked her up from the sitter on Tuesday, he learned that she'd hit her friends Lucy and Katie. Then she refused to apologize or even explain why she did it.
When we questioned her, she said the girls had been pretending to bite her. We surmised that they must have been rough-housing, and she'd gotten carried away like she does when Daddy tickles her.
I calmly explained that we can't hit people, even when we are playing. She slumped over a kitchen chair and hid her face. "I'm tired!" she whined. (This is her latest excuse whenever she doesn't want to clean up her toys or take responsibility for her actions.)
"Hitting hurts," I told her. "If we hurt our friends, they might not want to play with us any more."
The next line could have been delivered by Ethan: "I usually play by myself."
This morning, I reminded her when I dropped her off that she mustn't hit, and she agreed cheerfully.
This evening, Bill got off work early, so we all rode bikes over to get Allyson. It was a gorgeous evening, not too hot if we rode in the shade, and my spirits were high--until they were dashed the minute I walked through Alex's door.
"Look at your daughter," she said wryly. Allyson was curled up on the couch by herself in the playroom. She was clearly pouting. "She's been like that for an hour, and she won't speak, won't eat. She's basically put herself on time out."
From what Alex could tell, Allyson had punched Lucy in the stomach because Lucy wouldn't let her play with a certain doll. Alex tried to get her side of the story, but she refused to speak.
I was at a loss for words. "I'll try to deal with it," I promised. "She's never acted like this before."
We gathered up her uneaten snack and loaded her into the bike trailer. As he strapped her in, Bill asked her what had happened, and she confirmed Alex's report. At least she was willing to talk to us.
When we got home, I told her there would be no TV at bedtime tonight. She cried a bit because she'd just checked out a Wiggles video at the library and was supposed to watch it for the first time after her bath.
At bathtime, I offered her an out. "Maybe we could call Lucy and you could tell her you're sorry," I suggested. "That would make both of you feel better. And then you could watch your new video."
"I don't want to watch the Wiggles video," she said coolly. "I'll just watch Noggin [a preschool channel]."
"No, honey, you're not watching ANY television tonight because you hurt Lucy and you wouldn't tell her you were sorry."
I watched Allyson square her shoulders and set her jaw. "I don't want to watch TV tonight," she said resolutely.
We read a few stories, and I tucked her into her tiny bed. During bedtime prayers, I thanked Jesus for her friends Lucy and Katie and asked God to help them learn to be kind to each other.
A Little Help, Here!
So what do I do next? I feel ill prepared for struggles like this. Allyson, I think, is not the typical two-year-old. Time out doesn't seem to be a valid option since she gave herself time out and didn't seem bothered by it. Spanking isn't a logical way to teach her not to hit. She's impervious to psychology--reverse or otherwise. She's as headstrong as... as... as I was at her age.
Yet she's also the sweetest, most loving little thing. When I snuggle with her in the mornings, I can't believe my tender girl could be capable of hitting anyone.
Of course, I'm praying about this. I'm also reminding myself of my first memory passage in Proverbs 31, through which God has promised that I will "speak with wisdom" and that "faithful instruction will be on my tongue."
Well, I'm fresh out of wise words and faithful instruction tonight. I'm open to suggestions. Has anyone else dealt with this sort of behavior? What else can I do?