Can we all nod and agree on the cold hard reality that pretty much the entire decade (cut me some slack, two decades is just too depressing to contemplate) from the age of around 8 to 18 is not about becoming and being a teenager but about being a tormentor.
While parents are drip-fed the torment in the form of constant requests for expensive toys and designer clothes and complicated dinners with a splash of impressive tantruming, door-slamming and wall-thumping and a smattering of impressive displays of just how far they brain has yet to develop, tormentors store most of their tricks for their siblings.
Think the screaming of statements of fact like:
STOP LOOKING AT ME!
GOD (insert sibling name here)
YOU’RE SO ANNOYING
WHY DO YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO DO WHAT I’M DOING???
MAAAAAAHHHHHHUUUUUUUUM, (insert sibling’s name here)’s ANNOYING ME (like their behaviour and presence is just so delightfully scintillating and enjoyable)
Cast your mind back to physical signs of love and affection such as:
– the shove just because you were walking past
– the rumble that was so borderline assault you still wear the scars, mental and physical
– the face in your face telling you to get out of their face even though they just thrust their face into yours not visa versa
– the sharing of some food stuff whereby you get 1/16th and they get the rest but then collapse in a flail of ‘how unfairs’ when your parent gave you something else to make up for their mathematical remedialcy
Is it any wonder that by the time we reach adulthood and think our parents are completely lame they probably are after years of soul cobbling from enduring all this and trying to mediate it for years and years on end.
It is actually quite amazing that more parents are not bitter lunatics looking for revenge when, after all that they watch their offspring suddenly discover they quite like each other and start going to the pub or nightclub together and start secreting rolling-eyes and particular faces at each other when parents try to strike up a conversation about what they’ve been up to.
You know the parents who are getting their own back? Those mums who go clubbing with their daughters and dance around their handbag on the dance floor like it’s 1999 that’s who.
It is in the framework of this parental experience that I share with you the following incident.
Felix is particularly skilled at the sibling taunt and torment with the final scene an impressive display of self-righteous indignation along the lines of, ‘BUT HE WAS ANNOYING ME’. This is always so perfectly in proportion to what has gone before when his sibling has basically entered the room after a shower to get dressed.
Following several months, nay years, of Felix carrying on like this and many many many discussions with him (both in the heat of the incident and at the far more effective time of later one) about how it isn’t acceptable and how if he is feeling particularly frustrated with a sibling (let’s face it, 98 per cent of the time we’re talking about Oscar) there are strategies and actions he can engage to help him.
This of course results in a period of time varying from three minutes to even a couple of weeks of marked improvement in sibling relations until we begin the steady decline once more to another Ground Zero of Screamy McScreamy Tormentor Pants.
So imagine this. The regular nightly event called showering is taking place. Felix has finished and Oscar is getting in. This swap over coupled with the cleaning of teeth can basically never transpire without some form of contest, conflict or contact. Clearly, the idea of simply getting your towel and letting your brother pass is clearly so laughable, so ludicrous I’m not sure why I struggle with it being such the warzone it is.
On this particular evening I was actually in a good, even humorous, mood. So I cajoled Felix and for about the first time ever actually used a swear word while talking to him:
Me: “Felix, you are, what many people in the real world would call, a shit stirrer.”
Felix: “What does that mean?”
Me: “Well, imagine if you will all the turds sitting in the bottom of the toilet bowl. They’re happily minding their own stinky business, sitting their, stinking it up and generally feeling OK with the world. Then along comes Felix with a big wooden stick and stirs them all around.” (Imagine this with me doing quite impressive actions and Oscar finding it hilarious while in the shower) “So all the happy little turds suddenly are all ‘WOAH! What’s going on, what’s happening, I’m feeling all weird” (Imagine some impressive jazz hands with crazy hands and whole body conniptions that a turd must feel when flushed down the s-bend)
Felix: Wailing, flailing, storming off to his room, “NOBODY LOVES ME!!!!!” (cue door slam)
Me: Not being one to shy away from tormenting my children because people, revenge? such a cure, go and force the door open. Sticking my head around the corner I go “ba ba ba BOO!”. Several times.
There is general laughing through his indignant tears at this stage.
I force my way in.
Me: “Felix, you know I love you more than I can ever ever express to you, but there are times when you have to accept that it is your behaviour, not that of your brothers, which is causing the incident. What was it that Oscar was doing that made you so angry?”
Felix: “He was annoying me.”
Me: “No. That was how he made you feel. What was he actually doing that made you feel annoyed.”
Felix: “He was looking at me.”
Me: on the inside: belting him around the head with a dead stinky fish because OH.MY.GOD.
Me: to Felix: “Right. And instead of yelling and screaming and pushing him, did it occur to you to simply turn around? Or perhaps leave the bathroom area?
Me: “Felix, I know that a lot of things Oscar does and how Oscar is are very frustrating and annoying for you. There are aspects of Oscar that I find really frustrating and annoying. Do you know how hard that is? For a parent? To admit that about their child? But you know what? That is who he is. That was how he was born. And – as we have talked about many times before – you simply can not change people to suit you. BUT you can change how you respond and interact with them. So what are some of the things you can do?
Felix: “Ask him to stop.”
Me: “Yes, what else?”
Felix: “Move away.”
Me: “Yes, what else?” realising that yes, this child truly is the son of the father.
Felix: “Ask a grown up for help”
Imagine fireworks, fanfare!
Me: “Exactly. So how about we develop a code word or a saying which you can use when Oscar is getting in your face or you feel like you’re about to lose it with him so I can come and help you out?”
And, not a word of a lie, the i.n.s.t.a.n.t. reply from Felix?
Felix: “How about ‘Crazy zebras are on the loose’.”
And so, dear friends, life goes on.