There’s a state of lawlessness that exists in our home that probably resembles the Wild West in its most raucous, frightening days. I am the sheriff in this analogy. Or more accurately the deputy, stepping up when the sheriff has gone to the supermarket or is hanging out the laundry or any other of the thousand administrative and logistical tasks that we are required to complete on an hourly basis.
I have three main challenges with my (Billy the) kids. The first is an enforcement issue, not enough feet on the ground. My sons have an aggravating tendency to move around the house and the crime moves with them. Civil disorder in the bathroom, vandalism in the garden, the theft of each other’s spot-the-difference books everywhere. I haven’t yet had the time to install CCTV cameras or a bank of security monitors in the downstairs
In truth, surveillance should be easier as the felony rate spikes when they operate in same square metre i.e. within hitting distance of each other. That makes it sound more violent than it is; their aggression is nothing more than what I would refer to as mischievous bodily harm. A football commentator might call it a ‘niggly foul’ – more Alan Shearer than Vinnie Jones. A shove, a shirt-tug, that curious nuzzling-of-the-foreheads as if they were rutting stags. The kind of blow that’s landed off the ball, behind the referee’s back. Or when the referee is in the kitchen checking his phone.
When I’m not there to see these incidents for myself I have a problem: a lack of credible witnesses. It is impossible to piece together a timeline of events when both parties have their own agenda. Pointing the finger of blame at each other. The added difficulty is that they are wily operators, absolutely capable of outsmarting the hapless detective on their case. Both are skilled at playing the victim. If not rolling around on the floor but instead offering up an imaginary bruise or squeezing out a poignant tear or two.
Even when the action is unfolding directly in front of me, I find it tough to mediate. Like when they are in the bathtub, where they are especially belligerent for some reason. Perhaps they’re high from the unhealthy amount of bathwater they insist on drinking, quaffing it down straight from the shampoo lid. Somehow they’ve weaponised bubbles. And they launch underwater kicks and counter-tsunamis at each other until the bath is empty, its contents mainly sploshed onto me.
The confusion I feel when trying to adjudicate in these matters brings about my second challenge. Naturally, I want to be fair and even-handed with my children and ensure that justice prevails at all times. But I hold my older son to different standards as his younger brother, simply because he’s been on the planet for two additional years. When I have doubts in making a judgement – which is always – I can’t help but come down harder on my older son, as if his moral code should be more refined and he’s more culpable. It’s also marginally easier to reason and remonstrate with him over his younger brother, who is normally too busy bouncing around in this kangaroo court to listen to me.
I worry that this odd form of age-discrimination has bred resentment in my older son. Just the other night I came home to my youngest jiggling up and down on the front doorstep. He was excited to see me. Meanwhile, his brother had concealed himself under his duvet. Even as I prepared to wrap him in a loving paternal cuddle, he was trying to abscond from me.
But after all this, the third and final issue is the most fundamental one, the most exasperating, exhausting, curl-yourself-up-in-a-little-ball one.
My children will not do what I ask them to. In a world where I am the law, there is no law.