It was a warm summer day in the Garden of Eden. Adam was working around the hut, Eve was washing loincloths while Cain and Abel played in a nearby field. Suddenly, a cry rang out. Then a shriek. Then the sounds of boys fighting. Adam and Eve ran to see what the trouble was and saw their sons grappling over a rock.
“I had it first,” said Cain.
“I want it,” said Abel.
“Mine,” they both screamed in unison.
The elephants turned in horror to see what the commotion was. The zebras scampered for cover, fearful of a potential attack. Even the lions cowered in their dens.
“Boys,” shouted Eve, cutting through the din. “If you can’t play with the rock nicely then neither of you will play with it at all.”
And thus, the first referee was born.
I can empathize with Eve. My boys are 3 and 1. And they fight. Lord, how they fight. Thankfully, they don’t fight over rocks. If they had rocks they would probably bash each other’s heads in.
Our house is filled with toy cars, trucks, trains, planes and any mode of transportation you can conjure. Yet, my boys fight like crazy over a 2.5 inch long, Hot Wheel vehicle known as “the blue van.” It’s a work van circa 1980, that each has latched onto as the toy to die over, the toy that determines who is the alpha male, the toy that all other toys would die to become. Why? Because the other one has it.
As David Frost once said, “Having one child makes you a parent; having two you are a referee.”
It’s one of the many parenting rites of passage — playing arbitrator between two siblings. We throw on the ref jersey, drape a whistle around our neck and go to work. I’d estimate that 90% of the angst in my oldest son’s life emanates from his little brother’s mere presence in our home. We’ve come a long way from his “Put the baby in the garbage” comment after we returned home from the hospital with our second child. But even though the words have changed, many of the feelings have not.
Sharing is nearly non-existent, of course. And lately, the 3-year-old has started telling his younger brother about all the things he doesn’t have or doesn’t get to do. “You don’t get to ride this bike because it’s only for big boys.” He’s like a warden reminding his prisoner of the pleasures of life in the outside world that he’ll never get to enjoy. We’ve also begun to hear the dreaded, “Nah, nah, nah-nah-nah” emanating from his mouth. Touching, pushing, shoving, trampling and manhandling are so commonplace that there are many moments when I’ve wished the 1-year-old was wearing a helmet.
We have yet to find a solution to the daily UFC-style, grudge match in the Octagon that is our play room. Our refereeing is largely useless. Sure we hand out a few red cards which send our oldest child to time out. But there’s no stopping this fight. I keep reminding my older son that one day he’ll go to take a toy from his brother and his brother will not comply with a whimper then run to daddy.
On rare moments, there is detente and big brother actually seems to enjoy playing with his little bro. At these times, they seem less enemies and more equals but it is a tenuous truce.
We all know how Cain and Abel turned out — the first but certainly not the last incident of fratricide in history. In order to prevent that in my house I’ve got to have my whistle and zebra stripes on 24/7.