As a parent, it’s my responsibility to teach my children about fairness, sharing, and taking turns. At least that’s what that child-rearing book says. But as someone who’s tired of hearing screaming, screeching, and incessant whining, my main concern is silence, no matter what it takes to achieve it, nor who has been denied justice in my pursuit of it.
I sat on my couch one spring day, enjoying the soft breeze that wafted through my open windows, listening to the sounds of birds singing and children screaming in anger, horns locked in battle over the two swings in the back yard. Two swings will suffice in the average American family, but my family is not average — we have too many rear ends and not enough swings to go around.
Oh, at first I tried that turn-taking junk, and I witnessed, through the finger-sized hole one of those little heathens angels poked through my window screen, that two were swinging, and two were watching, waiting to pounce the moment one of swingers left their seat even for a millisecond. I have to say, it was a little humorous sitting there watching them, the swingers taunting the waiters as they pretended to be done with their turn, only to plop down again and resume swinging as the waiters started to get up from their cushy seat on the grass. It must be the sadist in me.
Then came the swingers leaping from their swings, desiring that exhilarating thrill of flying through the air (though the landing in a heap part, I’m pretty sure they weren’t looking for), only to have the waiters dart in and snag their swings before they’d hit the ground. Shrieking ensued. Shouts of “MOM!! It’s my turn now and she’s CRYING!!!”
Really? I hadn’t noticed.
So, in the quest for silence (because fairness is pretty far down on my list these days), I built a second swing set. Memorial Day weekend dawned sunny and hot, and I spent the entire day outside in the sweltering sun, slaving over 4×4 posts and 700,000 screws. I was covered in sweat and saw dust when I looked up to see their four faces pressed against the window, in the comfort of air conditioning, no less, watching me.
I felt like a hero. I could see the headlines. Mom Saves The Day by Building Second Swing Set! Absolutely. My, but I was good.
At long last the frame was erected, and I hung the two, brand-new, blue swings from their shiny new hooks. I stepped back and admired my handiwork, knowing that the day’s labor had purchased backyard silence, which, if you check the market, is worth more than gold.
Proudly I announced to the quad that I was finished, and that there were now enough seats for every rear end. All could swing! Let the backyard fun begin!! They came forth from the house in a flurry, four bodies streaking wildly to the new swing set, two children firmly planting themselves in the new swings, two dejectedly trekking back to the old ones.
No matter. Everyone could swing. All was good.
Until I sat down to swig my ice-cold tea in the comfort of the air-conditioned house. What was that I heard? Shrieking? Was a wild bear attacking someone? Aren’t all bears wild? I peered outside. There they were, all four, fighting over the old swing set, as two blue swings sat empty.
As luck would have it, the two new swings were deemed unworthy of their rear ends, because they were too stiff (or it could have had something to do with the older two telling the younger two that the old ones were better, and obviously more fun, and this only because they were in them).
What did I do? Did I go outside and set them straight about the rewards of taking turns? No. I did what any mother in my shoes would do. I laid a guilt trip on them. I whined and moaned about the wonderful thing I had just done for them. I carried on about slaving away in furnace-like conditions just to provide them with childhood happiness.
Four sets of sad eyes looked at me, pity evident as they gave me their most sorrowful looks. “You’re right, Mom,” says the eldest. “It’s really too hot to be out here at all.” What? No words of remorse? No praise for a job well done?
No nothing. Nothing but a three-year-old heaping sawdust on her head before following her older siblings back into air-conditioned comfort, and no doubt leaving a trail on my floor so I could vacuum it up later. And so they flew back into the house with twice the speed that they exited it only moments before, and I was left standing in the backyard, four empty swings mocking me.
But at least it was quiet.