I don’t mean to brag, but my kids have used this locked-down time wisely, and have really mastered the art of fighting about absolutely nothing. It’s amazing how they can really spin the proverbial straw of days that blend together into new, aggressive conflicts that seem just as fresh at 8 a.m. as they do at 2 p.m. I tip my hat to you, children. You’re remarkable gifts and I love you all.
That being said, WTAF, kids? Here’s my top list of fights that have transpired in my house, Groundhog Day-style, literally every day of this quarantine. As you read this, my daughters are having one of these. I guarantee it.
1. “SHE’S LOOKING AT ME.”
This fight generally transpires at a place like the kitchen table, where my children are seated directly opposite one another for meals. Thanks to quarantine, we get a bonus round of this setup for my two youngest for “school.” And no, I’m not going to attempt to address this by setting them up in a Last Supper-style configuration, or by creating independent workspaces that I’ll have to toggle between like an insane pinball.
One of the many, many skills I am trying to teach my children in this trying time is How to Maintain a Semblance of Normalcy. (Though honestly, when the 6-year-old says, “Why should I not be in pajamas?” on a crappy rainy day, I don’t have much of an answer and truthfully, at this point, I no longer care. Go ahead: Wear your Slumber University T-shirt with your fuzzy unicorn pants all week. Live the dream, kid. YOLO!).
Still, no matter what you’re wearing, you gotta sit at the table for meals with your siblings — even if that means you have to face your sister. Our regular session of the “SHE’S LOOKING AT ME!” conflagration usually starts when I get up from the table to procure a requested condiment, napkin, or something equally essential — and that is when the crime begins.
“SHE’S LOOKING AT ME!” one says, to which another says, “No, I’m not!” In our home, clearly “looking” must mean something other than the regular definition of “looking,” because, kids, this makes no freaking sense. Because, yes, my love, occasionally she IS looking at you. Because who deviates their eyes up to the ceiling or under the table when they eat? Why is that a crime?
Why is “SHE’S LOOKING AT ME” so offensive? It is a mystery, my friends. But it’s a mystery that rapidly becomes a riddle wrapped in an enigma, because it’s a remarkably small step to go from “SHE’S LOOKING AT ME” to…
2. “SHE’S TOUCHING ME!”
As we all know from #MeToo, there are different kinds of touching. Generally, unsolicited touching is a no-go, even if it’s a nonconsensual rubbing of a sequined top. But in these pandemic times, “SHE’S TOUCHING ME!” applies to absolutely anything, any time and any place. It is a complaint that covers anything, from legs bumping momentarily against one another on the couch while watching TV, to the slightest stirring of air as one party passes another to go to the bathroom.
As I contemplate this one, I believe “SHE’S TOUCHING ME!” is actually an existential cry for help. After all, doesn’t the proliferation of this virus illustrate that, in both the literal and metaphorical sense, we are all touching each other? That, despite social distancing and quarantine protocols, there is no alleviation of the burden, responsibility, and blessing of our inherent interconnectivity? That our lives inextricably intersect with one another, and that while this can be to the betterment of humanity, it also can feel super confining and annoying?
But for the purposes of this piece, let’s focus on “annoying.” This is one of the most annoying fights there can be, because, honestly (and kind of punnily, now that I think about it), GET A GRIP! Who gives a shit if someone’s shoe happens to brush yours as they are kicking their legs with glee, or if someone’s bare arm is next to yours on an armrest for literally two seconds? You’re annoyed by that? Well, the world holds much more annoying things for you in store, like irritating people on social media, so just get over it. Because the next chance to fight is just around the corner, and you gotta be ready!
3. “I WANT TO BE [INSERT RANDOM FICTIONAL CHARACTER’S NAME HERE]!”
“No, I do!”
This fight can be triggered by anything from a 23,093rd viewing of Descendants (a Disney franchise of which I was blissfully unaware until quarantine, and of which I now possess an encyclopedic knowledge and a slight, purely physical crush on Harry Hook) to a YouTube unboxing video (also, see under “blissfully unaware”).
The fight requires more than one small person to be watching said show/presentation/poorly shot online video, and for a character to enter the frame who possesses enviable characteristics like long blue hair, a sword, bitchin’ dance moves, or a combo thereof. One sibling points to said character and yells out, “I WANT TO BE HER!”
What does this actually mean, you wonder? Beats me! Like, do they want to be her when they grow up? (Hey, kids, I understand piracy is big in Somalia!) Or, like, are they so immersed in the show that they actually believe that they are in the performance and can transform from their small suburban selves into a glorious heroine or evildoer at sea? Do they plan to recreate this show at some TBD future date, and this is some unilateral casting decision? Honestly, it’s all very unclear. And trust me: I’ve had a lot of time to think about this.
What IS clear, however, is that the second someone says these five small words, the other sibling in the room will invariably, inevitably yell, “No, I WANT TO BE HER!”
Attempting to reason with the children — “It’s all in your imagination, so you can actually both ‘be’ her! Isn’t imagination great?”— is kind of like trying to convince a Fox News aficionado that Trump maybe isn’t such a great guy after all. Don’t even bother. It will only hurt you.
4. “SHE’S HOLDING THE REMOTE!”
“No, I’m not!”
Empirically speaking, it is actually quite easy to prove if someone is holding the remote control for the television, or they aren’t. Especially since said “holding” usually takes place in one of two hands, as opposed to a more, well, creative body depository spot.
This fight can be triggered by any number of things. Perhaps a child is bored by the show on the screen and, planning a coup, discovers that the remote is not on the coffee table where it is supposed to be. Or maybe there’s a sudden channel flip, reflecting that someone’s tush is unintentionally on the remote, the TV equivalent of the butt dial. Or it could be the more benign desire to adjust the volume — and then you realize that the remote is being held by your slack-jawed sister.
So why even bother fighting about this? Again, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this, and I can tell you: I don’t know. But it’s a tradition!
5. “I WAS ABOUT TO TAKE THAT ONE!”
In my day-to-day life as a parent, I find myself often attempting to see the world through my children’s eyes. I try to envision scenarios in their lives that could lead me, like them, from smiling and playing happily to, in a matter of seconds, vein-throbbing-from-forehead, screaming agony. Obviously, egregious injustices do trigger righteous indignation. Let’s say you are playing with a toy, you turn your back for one freaking second, and some sibling strolls in and takes it, complete with malice aforethought. God, that makes me angry just thinking about it.
But it’s harder to get it up, empathy-wise, for the person who is aggrieved about something that only happened within the perimeters of their mind. And yet, these imagined infractions of rights are a daily staple in our home.
Here is how they normally unfold: Sister A is holding a box of ice cream sandwiches. Sister B comes over, reaches in the box, helps herself to an ice cream sandwich, says, “Thank you!” and waltzes away. Sister A bursts into tears. But why? Because, obviously, amigos, that was the ice cream sandwich she wanted! No other ice cream sandwich in God’s creation will do!
Reader, please note: We aren’t talking about an “assorted” pack of ice cream sandwiches, where some shmo gets left with that last, icy vanilla one that nobody wants. Nay, they are all exactly the same. Also? It is not as though there is only one left in this scenario — the box has at least four more inside. In fact, this exact fight has happened when THE BOX HAS JUST BEEN OPENED, leaving seven more identical ice cream sandwiches ripe for the picking. And, as Sister A’s tears drip on the sticky kitchen floor and her sobs echo through the whole house, we fade to black. Fin.
What are YOUR everyday conflicts?
Image by Malte Mueller/Getty Images