He bought a Play-Doh mold in the shape of the Millennium Falcon with numerous places to press dough to get the shapes of a Snow Speeder or Tie Fighter or Death Star. He's excited to tell Daddy over the phone. But she butts in and tells Daddy first. He's mad.
There's name calling and some pushing, and I send them outside. No fighting around Mama. She doesn't want to hear it. "Have it outside!" I tell them. "Come back when you've made peace."
So they burst out the door, wielding their favorite weapons. She, words. He, fists.
I go about my business until screams indicate that the children may be seriously injured. I hover from one window to the next until I find them. He is swinging a segment of garden soaker hose over his head, using it like a whip. She is hiding behind the Podocarpus hedge crying. I wonder if I should intervene. Then she explodes with vehement phrases from behind the shrubbery. All the vulgar profanities that she knows at the age of six are said at her brother. I figure she could use a good lashing from a garden hose.
I attempt to go about my business again but I'm sorely distracted. What really am I teaching my children? Am I teaching them that might makes right? He is stronger but she is more crafty. He won't hold a grudge no matter what she says to him, but she will if I protect her or scold her.
Before I can decide what I ought to be doing, I hear shouts from a different part of the yard.
"I'm sorry, Rose!"
"I forgive you!"
"I'm sorry, Lee!"
"I forgive you!"
I wait. Then they come tumbling into the house.
"Mama, did you hear that?"
"We were on the roof."
"We have made peace."
And they race each other to the kitchen table to get out the Play-Doh to make tiny Star Wars ships.
Their anger is spent but I am still reeling.
Later, I chat with a more experienced mom about my parenting techniques. She says she only intervenes when her children's quarrels may permanently damage the relationship.
How is one to know? How can I tell when their actions or words will have a lasting effect or when they are simply the moment's passions? I have interrupted fights that I thought were getting out of hand, and the children became resentful towards me and each other for upwards of an hour. It was all very unsatisfactory.
But this other way, this way of listening and sometimes watching the people I love fight feels like some sort of Chinese torture.
How does God do it?
I see the people I love standing up for something they believe passionately about, something they believe is vital to their survival, their hope, their happiness. And I see others offended by it, angered, and threatened. I watch their words spill out on my computer screen like segments of soaker hose swirled above their heads. I hear hiccups of tears and anger, and I watch the days go by wondering if these quarrels will permanently damage their relationships.
And I wonder, will the resentment continue longer if I intrude? Or will I hear apologies shouted from the rooftops when this is all over?