Thursday, May 27, 2010

Big Brother

My brother Matt is four years my senior.  When we were kids, we watched a lot of WWF wrestling.  Not to be confused with the horrorshow that has become professional wrestling in the 21st century (WWE, I believe it's now called...I guess there was a problem with animal lovers and conservationists of the World Wildlife Federation showing up at coleseums, expecting to see an expo on The Giant Panda and instead getting Andre The Giant bitch-slapping Rowdy Roddy Piper with a folding chair).

Anyway, part of the fun of Matt and I spending Saturday mornings with Hulk Hogan, Ax and Smash, Randy Savage and the Honkey Tonk Man, was reenacting the more daring moves in our family room.  I spent the better part of second grade being Body Slammed onto our braided throw rug, wriggling my way out of figure-four leg-locks, and trying to survive being sleeper-held, pile-driven or clothes-lined.

Usually I was a pretty good sport...I only started crying if one of the moves went horribly wrong.  Say if Matt dropped me directly on my head, instead of landing on a couch cushion or pillow I landed on the floor.  That's when I cried.  And that's when Matt flew into a panicked attempt to get me to start laughing.  Because if he couldn't, he'd be in Big Trouble.

"You're fine, Beck," Matt would say, pulling up from the floor and poking me in the ribs.  "See look, you're laughing, you're laughing."

"That hurt, Matt!"

"Don't be a baby and tell Mom.  You're a tough kid.  You're fine."

Usually this tactic worked.  I didn't want Matt to think I was a baby.  I didn't want to tattle.  I wanted to be the tough hard-ass tomboy he told me I was.  But on the rare occasion that I really was hurt (a bloody lip, a broken limb, paralysis), I had no choice but to continue crying despite Matt's best efforts to hold a pillow over my face so our mother wouldn't hear me.

"Matthew!" our mother would call from somewhere else in the house.  And that's when we knew the show was over.  Matt would retreat, leaving me to explain why I was missing an eye or a digit.  I'm not even sure to this day how Matt was punished for his horseplay, but I'm sure it was brutal.  No Dukes Of Hazzard for a week would have been sufficient.

I am now witnessing the same thing going on with Rollie and Elsa.

Sometimes they play really well together.  I can leave them alone for ten, maybe fifteen minutes without hearing one or the other (or both of them) screaming.  I periodically peek in and see them working on a puzzle, stacking blocks, or just raiding Rollie's toy box and playing with random toys independent of each other.  I can unload the dishwasher or fold laundry in relative peace (how sad that the thought of folding laundry without hearing kids whining or feeling their pawing hands is as appealing as a week at an all-inclusive resort).

But when things go bad, Elsa's usually the one I hear, and Rollie's name is usually the one I yell across the house.

"Rollie!" I'll yell as soon as I hear the genuine screams of my daughter in pain.  I'll stumble upon a scene that usually involves Rollie sitting on, kicking or standing over Elsa, a toy that he obviously wasn't playing with at first now clutched in his defiant hands.

"Baby Elsa was about to bite me!" he'll say, as if it is he and not Elsa who is the victim here.

"Probably because you're being mean," I'll tell him.  "Did you push her?"

"Yeah, but she was about to knock over my (insert toy here--lego tower, puzzle, precariously stacked pile of books)."

Or sometimes it's not the aftermath of a squabble I find, but a wrestling match gone bad.  I've found Rollie sitting on her head, her back, burying her in blankets, stuffed animals, pillows from my bed so her whines are muffled.  As soon as he sees me he starts tickling her or acting like they were in the middle of an intense game of Peek-A-Boo, but he's not fooling me.  I've been on the receiving end of this situation way too often.

It's almost a Pavlovian response:  Elsa cries, I yell at Rollie.  I'm starting to think Elsa's hip to the routine, too.  Sometimes I see Rollie barely touch her and she'll burst into fake tears.  Or if I yell at Rollie before Elsa starts crying, she'll look up at me with her big blue eyes and start shrieking in manufactured pain.  I hope I'm not fostering her Drama Queen gene; though I'm sure I'm screwing them both up somehow....

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