Those Pesky Cats of Kilkenny

“There once were two cats of Kilkenny,
Each thought there was one cat too many,
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till, excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats, there weren’t any.”

When in our much younger years my sisters and I would fight/argue/vehemently discuss, my parents took up the habit of reciting this poem to us. It was their defense against hearing about whose right it was to invade someone else’s bedroom, for example, or who hadn’t done her share in cleaning the fish tank, or who poked whom and whether this was done on purpose. Eventually they decided to save some of their breath and began abbreviating their point by simply announcing into the air, “Oh, look, it’s the cats of Kilkenny.”

Cats of Kilkenny

Any success with shushing us with this method was due not to the fact that we internalized their warnings of destroying each other. It was because we didn’t want to listen to cat poetry when we were trying to determine which unlucky sister’s turn it was to sit in the middle seat of the car or exactly what qualified as hogging the bathroom. Meanwhile, I mentally added “say ‘Cats of Kilkenny’ at them” to the list of the hardships I vowed never to deliver to my own children someday, along with “force them to make their beds when they’re just going to sleep in them again anyway” and “refuse to serve sugary cereal for breakfast.”

Fast forward until last week. Sonny and Ace were engaging in constant and noisy disagreement over . . . well, almost anything. Whose turn it was to set the table. Who was hoarding the green marker for no reason. Whether the word pool could be said to rhyme with itself.

And then it happened. As I wandered past a heated discussion about who had neglected to close the door of the couch cushion fort, the immortal words of “Cats of Kilkenny” poured from my mouth as though with a life of their own.

Did they stop fighting? No.
Had I really expected them to? No.
Then why did I do it? I don’t know.

Fighting. It sets my teeth on edge. But sometimes amidst their howling onslaught, Sonny and Ace reach resolution. Sometimes they do eventually listen to each other. So maybe if they keep it up, they will become expert resolvers and listeners, cutting out the middleman that is their fighting.

Or maybe not. But this article  claims that sibling rivalry will eventually pay off with skills related to problem solving, regulating emotions, increased maturity and self-control.

Will this really happen? I don’t know.
If so, how long will it take before these new abilities kick in? I don’t know.

Just in case, though, next time Sonny and Ace fight, I might do something different. Perhaps instead of reciting “Cats of Kilkenny,” I will cheer them on: “Keep on practicing, boys. Try to keep it down, though, okay?”

Or maybe I’ll just claw my ears out. We shall see.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go compel my children to make their beds.

On Finger Flippers and Connect Four

I point Ace’s face toward the sketchy pencil marks on the bathroom wall. “What is that?” I demand. He brightens. “A rhino!”

Sonny’s guitar practice sessions often involve more drama than guitar.

The person who is supposed to provide information for an article is not getting back to me.

It’s officially spring, but this morning’s wind chill was 2° F. This winter season will overlap with next winter; I just know it.

When I cook, I prefer to be unobstructed. This scenario almost never happens.

I’ve been on hold for 26 minutes, being periodically (seven times so far) instructed to stay on the line because my call is very important.

Yesterday, after I had to stop suddenly to avoid hitting another car in a parking lot, the driver of the car behind me leaned on the horn and prominently wagged her middle fingers (plural—what was she driving with, anyway; her feet?) at me. (“It’s okay, Mommy!” said Sonny, picking up on a few warning signs. “Just take deep breaths!” “And count backward from ten,” advised Ace. “Shall we do it together?”)

Patience. I need it—badly, sometimes. And when my (frequent) advice on practicing it is handed back to me, it suddenly seems not quite as easy as all that.

But meanwhile . . .

J is neat and organized, but IImage? Not so much. The state of the house usually reflects my habits.

An hour has passed since I told Sonny that I’d play Connect Four with him in a few minutes.

Occasionally Ace confesses that it upsets him when I raise my voice, and I promise to try not to do that anymore. But I keep doing it.

The bulletin board that Sonny and Ace are waiting to have hung on their bedroom has been leaning against the wall for about three weeks.

I have put off responding to a certain e-mail.

My resolution to be cheerful and lighthearted early as the boys get ready for school has not yet come to complete fruition. (Do cheerfully worded comments count as cheerful if they are delivered through gritted teeth?)

Patience. I demand it of others. Sometimes acknowledging this is my fastest route to offering patience to others.

“Love is patient,” says 1 Corinthians 13, and of course this is true. Why is it so hard to be patient to people we love?

“Patience is a virtue,” says common wisdom, and of course this is true. Why does proving ourselves to Crazed  Finger-Flipping Parking Lot Driver sometimes seem more appealing than virtue?

“Though patience be a tired mare, yet she will plod,” says William Shakespeare, via Nym in Henry V. Why is patience so tired? I don’t know. She’s lazy? She’s overworked? She’s underfed?  What matters is that she plods on regardless.

Patience: may she plod on beside you this week, both coming and going.

Don’t Just Ask

Image

It’s rumored on the Internet that the average four-year-old asks 437 questions per day. I have a four-year-old, and that number seemed low to me, so I decided to count for myself. The other day as we pulled out of the garage, I took note of the time and started counting.

Why do pigs eat slop?

How does coldness turn water into ice?

Can we get an iguana?

Why not?

Does heaven have air?

Do harpoon makers make small harpoons for kids?

What are those red things on top of chickens’ heads and under their chins for?

Why does the word carpet have a car and a pet in it?

Are there bilge ducks, too, or just bilge rats?

Can God see inside and outside buildings at the same time?

How do T. Rex’s tails help them balance?

Thirteen minutes and 27 questions later we had arrived at our destination. I’ll let you do the math on that one, but it’s probably safe to say that at that, yes, he probably asks 437 questions a day.

And he expects an answer—a satisfying one—to each one.  He relentlessly hounds whomever he is questioning until one is delivered. “Well, can you find out? I need to know! Can we ask an expert?”

This little experiment made me wonder: Do adults have as many questions as four-year-olds? For the rest of the day I was keenly aware of my own questions—mostly unvoiced, but questions nonetheless.

Where did I put the field trip permission slip?

Why can I remember the lyrics to the songs from my fourth-grade musical (“It isn’t hot in the furnace, man, that furnace is cool, cool, cool!”) but not where I put the field trip permission slip?

Why don’t Honest Kids drink pouches have a hole for the straw?

Whose turn is it to set the table?

Did the words “Please take your sock off the toilet flusher” really just leave my mouth?

What is a more helpful response to someone’s crisis than “Let me know if I can do anything”?

How can I best help my kids learn gratitude?

Where is the unceasing public outrage for human trafficking?

Why does mercy triumphing over judgment look like? And why does mercy too often unsettle us more than judgment does?

Evidently I have just as many questions as my four-year-old. The difference: he pursues answers even to the trivial ones, and I too seldom pursue answers even to the non-trivial ones. They are transitory, too quickly fading away as I turn my attention to less important matters.

That’s not good.

What important questions do you have?

Let’s go find some answers.