The author of Green Eggs and Ham, a true advocate for children and lover of harmony, probably never foresaw the power of his message. The raw edgy words of encouragement to try something new create severe anxiety in the minds of tykes, to the point of bringing brothers to blows.
Last week, at the suggestion of their father, my eight and six year-old boys read a duet of Dr. Seuss. The six year-old, a pushy, boisterous, in-your-face personality, read the part of Sam, while the older child, a docile, agreeable, reticent sort, played the "other guy."
Remarkably, the first several pages brought out the kind of sibling love and cooperation that makes parents swoon. When the youngest congenially asked, "Would you like them here or there," the eldest replied, politely, "I would not like them anywhere." And together, sitting side by side and each supporting a cover of the book, they turned the page.
But by the time the more affable of the two refused to eat them in a house or with a mouse, the assertive boy grew frustrated. Dog-gone-it, he decided, his older brother must eat some off-color eggs and pork. So he growled, "Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?"
To which the other, taken off guard at such aggression, angrily retorted, "Not in a box! Not with a fox! Not in a house! Not with a mouse! What kind of set-up are you running, trying to make me eat with nasty animals?!" They slapped hands trying to beat one another to turning the page, which of course heightened their agitation.
The six year-old punctuated the words, "Eat them! Eat them! Here they are," by punching a huge, red whelp onto his brother's upper arm.
Rubbing his wound, and considering retaliation, but not yet committed to it, the "other guy" gritted his teeth and read, "Not on a train! Not in a tree! Not in a car!," and here he turned and ferociously spit the next lines in his brother's face, "Sam! Let me be! Or I'm gonna tell Mama!"
Oddly enough, they turned the page, and continued. By the time the train had come out of the tunnel and through the rain and picked up a goat and landed on a boat, it had run completely off track. My otherwise civil sons gripped shirt collars, ears and hair, wrestling for the upper hand; the whole time yelling, "Would you, could you," and "I would not, could not, will not!"
My husband, hearing his plan going awry, walked into their room, witnessed the tangling and tussling, and heard the oddest two-man act ever. "Try them, try them and you may, I say! Don't be such a sissy all the time!"
"Fine, Sam! If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see what a jerk you are! Get off of me."
... And, red faced and breathing hard, they turned the page.
"Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do, I like them Sam-I-am! And I would eat them in a boat. And I would eat them with a goat ..."
Meanwhile, my husband had quietly beckoned me to observe the performance. We both stared, mouths agape, as the plot twist unfolded. Two brothers, battered and bruised, again sat adjacent each other, taking turns turning the pages. And at the end, the oldest, a calm, contemplative type, put his arm around the youngest, a pugilistic, impulsive character, and finished with a gracious, heartfelt, "Thank you! Thank you, Sam-I-am!"