Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
Little feet pounded through the house in my direction. Tramping up behind me, my daughter whined, "Maaamaaa, he won't let me hold that book." The "he" to whom she referred was her brother, 22 months older than she.
"Well," I countered, trying to inject reason into nonsense, "maybe he's looking at it."
"No, it's just pictures," she continued to complain, in her newly mastered sassitude.
"Now he's going 'spwisht, spwisht' with it." She included large hand motions with this peculiar sound effect, apparently mimicking the taunting spwisht-movements made by her brother with the book.
They love to tangle me in their trivial disputes. One tattles, then the other tattles, then the first, then the other, until I want to scream, "I am not your translator! Speak directly to one another."
I squelched the urge to roll my eyes and give her the raspberries, and instructed, "I bet if you ask him nicely, he'll let you look at it."
"No, he won't," she insisted, but walked away in the direction of her offending sibling.
A few minutes later, she returned, eyebrows furrowed, fists clinched, bottom lip jutted out, chin tucked, and arms crossed. She flopped down on the sofa next to me and huffed, "I asked him nicely, like you said."
Clearly, my counsel failed. "What did he say?" I inquired, knowing I shouldn't.
Aggravated at how her brother had fouled her and annoyed at his insensitivity to her attempt at kindness, she gave me a can-you-believe-it look, and replied, "He said, 'No, and quit poking me in the chest!'"
"Nice," I sarcastically replied. Being so close in age, they go through constant cycles of love and hate, making me the middle man in every debate. I set myself on cutting out the middle man.
My resolve got diluted in daily chaos, however, and within days I let down my guard. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. I heard my daughter's determined footsteps on the stairs.
"Maaamaaa, he keeps getting on the sofa when I'm on it."
Again, I imparted my impotent motherly wisdom. "The sofa is big enough for both of you."
"No, Mama. It's my stage. I'm putting on a show and he won't let me." Out popped the sassitude. Practice makes perfect. "Can you come tell him to stop?"
I drew the line there. "Not right now. Y'all will have to work it out yourselves."
"No. Go play somewhere where your brother is not. That's the best way to solve the problem."
"Can I tell him to get off the sofa? Can I tell him that you said so?"
"Sure," I laughed, "you can try."
Very shortly, a blond boy presented himself with a protest of his own. "If I'm a bully, then she's a bully!" Then more tentatively, but bravely, nonetheless, he broached, "And you're a bully, too." When he said "too" his bottom lip remained puffed in a pout beyond normal dimensions.
"Back up, mister," I warned. "Careful what you say."
"Better. Now, what is this about a bully?"
He frowned. "You said I'm a bully and I'm not."
Confused, I asked, "What are you talking about? I haven't said bully once this morning, much less referred to you as one."
Pointing to his sister, newly arrived on the scene, he explained, "She said you said for me to quit being a big bully."
All I could think was, At least she didn't poke you in the chest. (Sassitude runs in our family.)