In my house, wanting things that other people have is a dangerous contagion the likes of which haven’t been experienced since the plague brushed Europe clean of a third of its population over six centuries ago. Back then the carriers were rats and fleas; now, it’s perfectly healthy children.
When one of my little people sees one of their siblings with something, about to get something, or even thinking about the potential possibility of receiving something in the distant future, the secondhand barely moves before the “Can I’s…” tumble out like wet dominoes on a hot skillet.
Of course, when I say “things,” I obviously mean precious commodities like empty shoeboxes, or a slice of American cheese. And, by now you realize that when I say “little people” I mean the youngsters I live with. I used to call them “little people” all the time until that hit show aired featuring the official little people of this world. Now, my kids are actually more like “medium people.” The exception is my ten year old. There is, in fact, a medical term for her condition and that is “shrimp.”
Recently, the thing they all wanted was toothbrushes. It began with one asking for a new toothbrush. Unbeknownst to me, she'd followed me into my bathroom (my medium people actually glide silently over the carpet) and saw me get the huge multi-pak of instruments for brushing out of the cupboard. That’s all they are after all, a thing that cleans one’s teeth. What's the big deal? The needy one said, “Can I have the blue one?” Then another not-so-needy one, from where she came I have no idea and seeing two empty slots said, “Who else already got one? Can I have one?” Then, a third, but not so stealthy one, sensing that somewhere, someone was getting something, burst into the room and said, “What-are-you-guys-getting-can- I-have-one?”
Oh how I wished I'd been giving out spankings.
Tossing the package up to a top shelf I said, “Brushing is overrated anyway,” and left the room.
I’m pretty sure that in our house a driving force behind the competition for things being equal is probably due to their subconscious, yet diabolical wish to drive me insane. If it isn’t helping with dinner (Can I stir the pasta? Can I stir it next? Can I stir it after that? Can ANYONE stir my Martini?) it’s helping at the grocery store or sitting up front. The other day all three girls clamored to help me hold the bag in the bulk foods aisle. I only wanted pine nuts, but ended up getting dried cranberries, which I already had at home, and something called quinoa, because it was cheap and served to quickly even the score before my head popped off and rolled down the aisle with its eyes still blinking.
As I sat and stared into space a few evenings ago while the eleven-year old rubbed my feet as punishment for not cleaning his room (it’s all about logical consequences), the moment I’d been waiting for finally arrived. In an instant, my kids’ unchecked competitive spirit was no longer a mystery; my problem wasn’t solved, but it certainly was understood. It was, of course, my husband who provided my moment of illumination when he walked in the door and after quickly surveying the scene, said eagerly:
“Can I have a foot rub?”