I don’t know about your kids, but sometimes my kids don’t talk very nicely to one another. Mostly, it’s the boys.
They are 9 and 5 and typically, my sons surprise me with their kindness. Either of them would give you their last marshmallow if you asked for it. But with one another, they sometimes struggle. They are roommates and playmates, and eventually all of that togetherness pushes them over the edge. Amy and I try to avoid officiating the copying, pushing, touching, breathing, stealing, staring, talking rude, talking incessantly, following, and baiting. Typically we send the tattler back into the fray with the charge, “Go tell your brother how you feel about that.” But we are their parents, so when it gets bad we step in.
Then, last weekend, my 12 year old daughter made brownies, and the sweet chocolaty aroma warmed the whole house. The brotherly bickering that had been simmering shifted suddenly into a zombie duet, with both brothers moaning and faux-drooling at the rectangular brown cake.
I asked them to start setting the table for dinner, and as an afterthought, I said “Whoever is the kindest during dinner gets the most brownies for dessert.” And what happened next was hardly remarkable. Of course, they got kind. Brownies were on the line. They turned on the charm and started complementing each other and serving each other, getting each other drink refills and extra napkins. It was a hoot, and I almost broke the spell by imitating their singsongy politeness, but something stopped me. Sometime during the meal I realized that their kindness, though originally motivated by chocolate, had quickly become totally sincere.
For the next two hours, past the brownies (they tied for the kindness win, and each got 3 squares) all the way through bedtime, my two sons were more genial and courteous with each other than I had ever seen. Honestly, it was the sweetest and most wonderful evening. I’m still processing what happened, and thinking on how to build on that experience for their future. There’s some golden nugget of truth hanging there just beyond my reach. I’ll let you know if I ever grasp it.