When they collaborate

By Juli

Have you ever noticed how delightful children can be when they’re alone, and then how it all can just quickly go to hell when they’re together? If you put my children in a room together, 9 times out of 10 it will end in a disaster. Usually they will find some game that involves them crashing into one another, a game that they had both ABSOLUTELY AGREED UPON as an AWESOME GAME IDEA at the time, but 5 seconds of actually playing the game has taught them that they DO NOT LIKE THE GAME and MOMMY WHY WOULD YOU LET US PLAY THAT AWFUL AWFUL GAME WHY MOMMY WHY?

For example, this delightful exchange happened when A came to me crying after being in another room with his sister for all of 3 minutes.

A: “Mommmmmmmmy… S kicked me!”

Me: “What? Well, what were you guys doing?”

A: “We were playing “Kicky.”

And that is NOT a joke. That actually happened.

Consider also that with children whatever one has the other wants to, no MUST, have or he/she will no longer be able to see the point in LIVING. For example, we have a mug that has a picture of a monster on it that we call … get ready for it … “the monster mug.” When I make the kids hot chocolate, they both want this mug, even though we have several other amazing mug options, like the mug with a picture of their beautiful mommy’s face on it, or the saxophone mug, or the tiger mug (which is now broken. I blame my husband for breaking it because he hated it, even though I was the one who ACTUALLY broke it. I’m fairly certain he hated it so much that he silently willed me to break it, so it’s still his fault.) At any rate, we have LOADS of cool mugs, but the children only want the monster one. Only the monster will do. So we literally have to keep track of whose turn it is to use the monster mug, which I accomplished the first few times by switching a magnet to one side of the fridge for A, and the other side of the fridge for S. Of course I quickly forgot to keep switching the magnet, and now we have fights about whose turn it is to use the monster mug, and there was one time when A actually waited until S finished drinking her chocolate milk out of the monster mug and POURED HIS OWN HOT CHOCOLATE INTO THE MONSTER MUG SO HE COULD DRINK OUT OF IT.

This is how it went until one day when I was talking up the saxophone mug. I talked it up SO WELL, and even pretended to play a few jazzy tunes on the handle. Well, now, predictably, the fights are over who gets to have the saxophone mug. And darn it all anyways, because wanted the saxophone mug.

Mug Wars: Monster VS Saxophone

Mug Wars: Monster VS Saxophone

And finally consider the fact that my children will sit at the table and craft side by side, draw pictures, create cardboard creations that I will have to secretly throw away, but the only interactions or collaborations they will usually have will be to fight about supplies. Most of the time they do not realize that they could quite successfully SHARE the markers or the paper or the cardboard bits. The other day, in fact, my son wanted to cut out a tiny piece of paper to write a tiny note to the tooth fairy to leave under his pillow, so he took a larger piece of white paper and cut the corner off, leaving a lot of paper left. My daughter, hearing what her brother was doing, decided that she, too, would like to make a tiny note. But instead of cutting a piece from the same paper her brother had used, she took a whole new piece of paper, and cut the corner off of that. This is such an accurate metaphor of their mindsets: they could so easily share, collaborate, work together and save paper, but they usually just don’t.


Two tiny notes… two ruined pieces of paper.

But when they DO collaborate, it is a truly beautiful thing. When one of them takes gentle and supportive leadership over the other and they come together to do something, the result is usually amazing. Take the other day when their dad and I sent them into their room to clean it up. A moaned and groaned because he knew that his sister wouldn’t do her part, and S whined and wept because she gets overwhelmed and needs direction. So we gently suggested to A that he could help S understand what she needs to do and leave those things for her to do in her time, and we gently suggested to S that A could help give her direction and would make sure she had the help she needs. And then they went into their room and we listened in hopeful anticipation as A adopted this teacher-like big brother voice that he gets, and gently and lovingly explained to his sister which parts of the room she could do and she, ever eager to please her big brother (and get whatever treat I had promised for a clean room) would do things and ask for approval, which he, swelling with the responsibility and pride of leadership, would give her. And they cleaned that room. Not perfectly, of course, but the point is they worked together and they CLEANED it. And that was incredible. And with the craft stuff, sometimes they will decide to work together on a card – S who can’t yet write very well, will ask A to write for her while she draws pictures. And the result is beautiful. A likes being asked for help, and S likes having the confidence that she knows what the card will say, and doesn’t have to worry that her writing will be misunderstood. When they collaborate, it’s like magic. Like quiet, wonderful, mommy-gets-to-sit-and-finish-her-coffee magic.

But even more than that, when they lean on each other and work together it’s like they’re both harmonizing in a song that I want to draw near to and witness, even join in on. I want to be part of the magic that is two people working together to achieve a common goal and have pride in what they have accomplished together, and it’s even more exciting when they are MY little people. This is why I don’t really love the individualistic focus in schools, in sports and even in the professional world. When we single people out we are often giving in to the idea that we are working against each other, clawing over each other to be at the top of the pack, which seems preposterous to me since we all have strengths in different areas, and we all need each other to be successful. Ideally there are people below the top person holding her up, so she doesn’t need to stand on their faces, or stomp on their dreams. This is what I want to teach my kids, at any rate, and bit by bit we’re working on it.

The mug thing, though. That’s still a tricky one. For now how I’ve solved it is that I’ve stopped making them hot chocolate. We’ll see how long that works. 

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