One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

October 3, 2012


Ian: “So you probably don’t remember this, but the cat actually came and snuggled with me for like a minute last night.”

Me: “Oh yeah?”

Ian: “Yeah, he jumped up, ran across me and plopped himself on top of you like usual. But when you didn’t wake up, he eventually got off your chest and came and curled up next to me.”

Me: “I don’t remember that at all.”

Ian: “Yeah, you were pretty out. Anyhow, I got to pet him for all of thirty seconds before he ran back to you and jumped up on your chest again. And then when you still didn’t wake up, he gave up and and left.”

Me: “Awwwwww, poor kitty.”

Ian: “What?!”

Me: “Getting ignored. Poor kitty.”

Ian: “What about poor me? …always getting rejected by the cat…jeez”

*  *  *

Yesterday Ethan gave me the sweetest compliment. You know, in an awkwardly hilarious, slightly Oedipaean way.

He and Rachel had been fighting. Capital F, fighting. I was attempting to ignore them because it was one of those pointless arguments where they are both in the wrong, both picking some arbitrary bullshit thing to cling to in order to justify dealing with each-other in the worst possible way and escalating the fight. In this case it was something like, Ethan, while watching a show that Rachel had started watching on Netflix began making obnoxious remarks about the characters. Rachel immediately overreacted in full rage by leaning in and shouting at him to get out. Ethan responded by turning on his smug implacability and sat there going, “you never said ‘please’. I’m not going to reward you treating me like that by listening.” Thereafter, she insisted on shouting, wailing that she already had said please, grabbing his lapels and shrieking and then outright screaming in frustration.

I used to always jump in early to mediate, and though I tried to ease myself out of it as gently as possible, taking lots of opportunities to tell them that their fights are between them, but that any time they feel they’re at a loss they should feel free to come to me and talk it out or get some perspective, I still feel like Rachel thinks that if she just escalates her distress enough, then I am obliged to come rescue her.

So yeah, these days I try to make it a practice to let those fights go as much as I can to make the point that these are their conflicts to troubleshoot. And because as pointless as the conflict looks to me, I know that having personal experience with the pointlessness of escalating conflict is an important first step toward them thinking of other ways to deal with these conflicts.

Anyhow, I got to the point where I’d had enough of Rachel’s shrieking angrily at the top of her lungs – and so I went over and gave her a lecture about how I had been ignoring the fight because it was between her and Ethan and had even gone so far as to ignore two or three screams, but she was at the point where she was using Ethan’s inconsiderateness to her to justify her being inconsiderate to everyone in the household and what did she expect would be the outcome of that?

As you would all expect, the outcome of my own intervention is that she felt wronged. She replied with a bunch of, “so you want me to run away then since that’s the only other way I could deal with this,” And “why don’t you just put me up for adoption and then you won’t have to deal with it.” And then she went stomping outside, and I let her go so she could cool off.

But then I thought I’d just have a quick talk with Ethan.

So I said, “You know, you’re not innocent in this. You know that the things you’re doing are provoking her.”

“Yep,” he said, still smug, “I know I’m good at provoking people. I don’t know how I do it, but I know I do it all the time without even trying.”

“Okay,” I said, “That’s a nice try to pretend you’re not responsible for it. But even if you unintentionally provoke someone, you still have the opportunity to be a good guy about it and say, ‘Hey, sorry, I didn’t realize that would get to you,’ as soon as they react badly.”

“Okay, but she was getting right in my face and yelling and threatening me.”

“Wasn’t there any point before that,” I asked him, “when she hadn’t yet threatened you, but you were beginning to be aware that you were upsetting her?”

“Nope,” he blithely assured me, “she jumps right to overreacting and threatening me.”

We talked in circles around each other a little longer with me trying to explain how awful a tactic saying, “I don’t have to apologize or leave you alone when you didn’t tell me you’re hurt in a nice way,” is, without, you know, getting into my own awful experiences with that tactic, but let me just say to you guys that mercy, there are an awful lot of assholes out there who will hurt you and then when you are hurt, will paint it like you wronged them in how you expressed it. Even if all you did was blink back tears and leave the room quietly, they’ll tell you that you pouted like a spoilt child and gave them the silent treatment. So, although Ethan didn’t entirely buy it, I just wanted to put the seed of a thought there that although it’s a powerful argument tool when you’re upsetting someone, it’s not the “I win” card in a fight, it’s only the “I successfully bully” card.

Anyhow, I eventually said, “okay, you’re growing up, and I just expect your responses to these situations to become more adult. So, let’s for a moment, suppose that I was in that situation, what do you think I would do?”

And he said, “I don’t think Rachel would yell at you like that.”

“Maybe not,” I told him, “but she does overreact to me a lot too. So let’s say I was watching a movie with her and one of her favourite characters got shot in the head and I joked, ‘boy, he’s sure not getting up from that,’ and she turned to me and started yelling at me to shut up and go away.”

He said, “you’d probably ask her to stop yelling at you.”

“Well yes,” I said, “but I think I’d throw an apology in there too. Something like, ‘Can you stop yelling at me Rachel? I didn’t realize what I said would upset you that badly, and I am sorry.”

“Well that’s what I said you would say,” Ethan told me.

And I said, “Okay, I just think the acknowledgement and the apology is important too. Do you know why?”


“Because it’s what a good person does when they accidentally upset someone. Even if that person expresses their pain in ugly ways, good people still want to make right the part of it that they’re responsible for. And… you do know what kind of person I want you to grow up to be, right?”

Eyes were rolled. “Yes, mom. AGood Person. But Mom,” he said, “To be fair, that response isn’t a good person, that’s more like A Perfect Person.”

I guffawed. “Kid, I’m so not perfect. If I can pull off those responses once in a while, then I believe anyone can do it.”

And he gave me that sideways superior look that he has so down pat and said, “Nooooo, mom. You’re pretty perfect, face it. I mean, I’m not at all surprised that Ian wanted – well and dad for that matter too – wanted to marry you. If you were a girl my age, I’d probably want to marry you.”

To which I think I blinked at him, bewildered and touched. And then he said, “Well! AND if you weren’t related to me. Because that would be awkward.”

And then we both laughed until we cried.

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