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.

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Do I Hear School Bells?

It’s 8:30 in the morning.

Sonny is grumbly because his brother keeps calling him Howard, because I haven’t let him watch TV in about seventeen years, and because his hawk paper airplane has a bent nose.

Ace is grumbly because I keep forgetting to address him as Diego, because I hung up the phone before he had a chance to talk to my parents (despite declining the opportunity before I hung up), and because he has to do everything around here.

The toxic combination of boredom and back-to-school jitters is compelling Sonny and Ace to trot out torments that only siblings can deliver well: copying each other (“He’s copying me, Mom!” “He’s coppppying me, Mommm!”), pretending to drink from the other’s cup,  and . . . wait for it . . . pointing at each other.  Darkly threatening to send each other to jail, to JAIL! Feigning ignorance (and innocence) over the whereabouts of his brother’s lost toy.

Constantly.

School starts on Tuesday, and that’s none too soon. We are sipping at the dregs of summer vacation, and these people need somewhere to go.

Sonny will be starting kindergarten. Over the last few weeks he’s dwelt on various concerns: the possibility of bullies, not knowing everyone in his class, wishing he didn’t have to be away from home all day. But yesterday he told a cashier that his new teacher smiles all the time, and he ended last night’s bedtime prayer with “and thank you that school starts soon.” Ahhh, he’s ready. Good.

Ace will be starting preschool. He is concerned because he likes alone time, which is scarce at preschool. He is nervous because he doesn’t know many of the other kids. But he also remembers being sad when he was two years old and went along to drop Sonny off at preschool. He’d wanted to stay, too. “When is it going to be my turn, Mommy?” he’d ask. And now, finally, it is his turn. Today he donned his new monkey backpack and marched proudly around the house. “Let’s pretend that I’m in preschool, Mommy,” he said. “Because . . . I AM in preschool!”  Ahhh, he’s ready. Good.

Am I ready? Ready for some solitude? Who, me? Sometimes the idea of completing a task, or a thought, without interruption has me almost salivating. Nobody lamenting that he accidentally bit his own hand while eating cheese, nobody knocking frantically on the bathroom door to report a cricket floating in the goldfish bowl, nobody arguing over whether to dig to China or build a fort, nobody boycotting the only pair of socks left in his drawer.

The other day Sonny and Ace spent a few hours at the neighbors’ house, and I amazed myself with how much I could accomplish when left to my own devices. I even seamlessly completed a phone conversation. The silence was golden.

Until it wasn’t. It became almost creepy. True, nobody was fighting. But also true: nobody was summoning me to the window to watch a deer or turkey. Nobody was calling me “Mommy-Tommy.” Nobody was painting pictures of volcanoes to hang on the fridge. Nobody was making his brother laugh helplessly, and nobody was playing pet store together. Nobody was issuing tickets for walking on the wrong side of the stairs.

Then Sonny and Ace returned home. They had enjoyed their time with the neighbors, and they were content . . . for about a minute, until one of them started pointing at the other. “He’s pointing at me, Mom!” (“He’s pooointing at me, Mom!”)

And so it went.

Am I ready for my kids to start school? Oh yes.

Will I miss them while they’re gone?

Absolutely.

Enjoy the school year, everyone.