We have a toy dragon.
Actually, we have lots of toy dragons, but apparently we only have one “good” toy dragon. And it is that dragon we had in the car with us this afternoon on the drive back from school.
Here’s some basic maths: Two children + one toy = noise.
“I grabbed it first!”
“Well it’s actually mine, because I got it for a present!”
There’s a certain point where, as a parent, you need to intervene in these arguments. For me, that point comes either when someone (usually Little Brother) resorts to physical violence, or when–
“Mummy! Tell him he can’t have the dragon, because it’s mine!”
Or when my name is invoked.
“You two can work it out,” I said. “If you can’t I’ll have the dragon.”
There’s silence from the back seat for a few seconds. As though this answer is a shock. As though it’s not the same answer I give every time they argue over a toy.
Then it starts again.
And then six-year-old Big Brother realises what’s happening and says more quietly, “Mummy’s going to take it away from us. You have to stop yelling.”
“Mine!” screeches Little Brother.
“No,” says Big Brother. But he’s calmer now. He’s not yelling. Assertive rather than aggressive. “I picked it up first. But you can have it when I’m finished.”
Another few second of silence and then… “Okay. Mine.”
And happiness reigns for almost five minutes. Big Brother gets bored with flying his dragon back and forth in front of his face in the cramped car and hands it to his brother. “There you go. Your turn.”
Little Brother takes it and says, “Look, Mummy! Brother give me!”
“That’s great,” I said. “Good sharing, Big Brother. Little Brother, did you say thank you?”
“Yes,” said Little Brother.
“No,” said Big Brother.
And I immediately regret asking. Because right now, they’re both happy. If I hadn’t said anything, I could have let them happily play and I could have driven home in peace. But I asked the question. So now I have to do something with the answer.
“Please say thank you, Little Brother.”
And he doesn’t. Of course. He cuddles the dragon against himself, and refuses to speak. He doesn’t respond when I talk to him. He doesn’t play with the dragon.
When it comes to passive resistance, Little Brother is a champ.
“You have one more chance to say thank you,” I say. “Or I’ll have the dragon.”
And I hate it. I hate that I put myself in this position. I hate that I’m about to turn my beautiful son into a screeching harbinger of doom. But I said the words, so I have to take the action. That’s how it works.
Little Brother doesn’t say thank you. I take the dragon away from him and put it in my lap. “When you say thank you, I’ll give it back to you,” I say.
He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t even scream, which is both a pleasant surprise, and somewhat disturbing.
After a few minutes Big Brother asks, “Are you going to keep the dragon forever? Because you could just give it to me…”
I run back through the conversation in my head. Did I say I’d keep the dragon? Did I, at any point, indicate that I would keep the dragon, or just that I’d take it away?
I hand the dragon over the Big Brother. “There you go. If Little Brother says thank you, he can have it back.”
Happiness reigns. Kind of.
We’re almost home when Big Brother gets bored and/or feels bad for his little brother. He lowers his voice, leans across the car, and puts the dragon on Little Brother’s lap. “Here you go,” he says quietly. “You don’t have to say anything. I don’t want it anymore, so you can just have it.”
Should I say anything? The arrangement isn’t in keeping with my parental decree, but it’s so sweet. And clearly been done so I don’t notice…
And then, from the back seat, a little voice. The same whispered volume as his big brother’s.