This essay is from Parentlode. Read Lisa Belkin's introduction here.
By Garrett Rice
Now came troubles to Neanderdad's house. The worst kind of troubles. A civil war had erupted between the girl and the boy. Now came insults and slights, jabs and needling, attacks and reprisals. Two sweet children, so recently full of love for each other, had now devolved into demons bent on mutual harm. The siblings had become rivals. Neanderdad had been the catalyst.
It had all started so innocently. Neanderdad found himself lacking in the advanced motivational skills required to get his children efficiently through their bedtime routine. And whereas Neanderdad wanted his offspring to proceed forthwith to the bathroom for bathing and the brushing of teeth, and with the children being opposed to said bureaucratic necessities, Neanderdad was therefore compelled to develop a technique for expediting things. It was a technique that he mistook for brilliance. It consisted of a single word.
"Race?" he had said.
And that single word initially worked marvelously. Beating a sibling at something was enticing. Irresistible in fact. And so girl and boy had indeed raced from the family room. And it transformed a quarter-hour-long herding process into a ten-second affair. The girl entered the bathroom first, flushed with excitement. The boy followed, slow to recognize what was happening.The dog chased along after them, attracted by the commotion, trying somehow to participate. Then followed Neanderdad, grinning in foolish, prideful delight at his success. Unfortunately for him, he had failed to recognize the significance of what followed. For as the girl mounted the stool by the sink to begin brushing her teeth, she turned to her brother and gave him a most unpleasant smile.
"First!" she sneered.
The boy had frowned. His face slowly contorted in frustration. He let out a small squeak from behind gritted teeth. Then he climbed huffily onto his own stool and began to brush, his eyes darting at his sister in anger. He would not forget.
It was only the next day, as Neanderdad was getting the children ready for their day, that he discovered the horrifying consequences of his expediting technique. For as he returned again to his new trick to get the children to the bathroom, a quite different result greeted him. Even before the word "Race" could fully escape from Neanderdad's mouth, the boy was off to the bathroom at a dead run. This time it was the girl who hadn't been paying full attention. She chased helplessly after her brother and was then caught up with the enlivened dog.
"Not fair!" she moaned, realizing that she hadn't a chance. "Not fair!"
"First," the boy said when she arrived in the bathroom, evilly ebullient in victory. He proceeded to brush his teeth and grin a foamy grin at his despondent sister, looking like a rabid cherub. The girl did not like his smugness one bit and proceeded to kick at her brother. The boy then kicked back. Neanderdad had to step in to separate them. And thusly did their interaction proceed for the whole day.
At snack time they fought over who would get the blue bib. Then they argued over who would get the purple plate. Then they squabbled over who would get the dinosaur placemat. Neanderdad admonished the girl for trying to switch apple slices between her plate and the boy's, hers apparently being slightly smaller. He then had to chastise the boy for smirking at the girl's admonishment and teasing, "Na, na, na. I've got bigger apples."
The competition continued at play time. The children raced to the family room intent on claiming territory and toys, then spent their time envying each other's possessions. To avert open hostilities over a train set, Neanderdad steered the siblings to The Ladybug Game, a turn-based diversion that he could mediate. What ensued was a textbook example of passive aggression. The girl surreptitiously went through the playing cards to pick the best ones for herself. The boy purposely miscounted squares while advancing his ladybug. Both of them openly pilfered Praying Mantis Cards to help defeat their rival. And both of them yelled accusations at each other throughout the game.
"Cheating!" The girl would say to the boy while ignoring a penalty square and moving her own piece forward.
"Cheating!" The boy accused in return while stealing a handful of unearned Aphid chips.
Aphids and harmony were both casualties of the game and Neanderdad resigned himself to playing peacekeeper for the rest of the day. In the end, bath time became a parody of Neanderdad's expedited dream scenario. Neanderdad had to hold each child's hand tightly and walk them every-so-slowly to the bathroom, carefully keeping each sibling back from the threshold so that both crossed at exactly the same moment. And of course, once inside, they each fought to claim the sink, the toilet and then the bathtub. Neanderdad had to constantly intervene.
That night, as the enemies slept, Neanderdad and his spouse plotted ways to separate their warring offspring and break the cycle. If the boy and girl could not be trusted together, then they would have to be kept apart. Neanderdad would take one, his spouse the other.
But something unexpected happened the next morning, when Neanderdad informed the children of the new plan. As loudly as they had screamed before, it was nothing compared to how they protested now. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, the children quickly fled from their parents, preferring instead the warm embrace of their former foe.
As the children quickly raced -- this time in collusion, to the girl's bedroom -- Neanderdad tried to understand how he'd become the enemy of their enemy. Then he was flummoxed by what he saw when the children emerged again from the bedroom. The two siblings reappeared, arm in arm and thick as thieves. Both were wearing princess dresses.
"We're going to get married," explained the boy as he fixed his shoulder strap. Then he hugged his sister warmly.
"Our kids will be called Alcohol and Baby Jesus," added the girl inexplicably, hugging him back.