the touch of rivalry

I hit, I hit, I hit!

He wakes up chirping like a bird. A happy song to greet the dawn, warbling as he waits for me to arrive. But the words aren’t quite as sweet as the tune.

No hugs! I do not hug. I hit! I hit my brother!

The rivalry song.

Half of me wants to burst out laughing every time I hear his angelic soprano start on the monitor. Half of me wants to storm in the little devil’s room and declare, for the thousandth time that no, you do NOT hit your brother, it is NOT nice to hit, and you do NOT sing mean songs about hitting, you need to be GENTLE.

(Even though yelling at children to be gentle never fails to amuse in its irony.)

He’s three and the baby is one and they can’t help but collide all day, physically and emotionally. One is curious, the other covetous; one likes to build carefully, the other likes to barrel over and destroy. They are each other’s beloved playmates, but when the toys and books and food and games and attention have to be shared, rivalry rears its ugly head. For now the older is always the instigator, but the tables will soon turn and the hits will trade back and forth.

Push, shove, steal, slap, throw, grab, smack. I hit, I hit, I hit!

Sometimes I try gentle reminders: We don’t hit in our family. Sometimes I opt for alternative techniques: Hands aren’t for hitting; they’re for helping. Sometimes I simply grit my teeth and seethe STOP.

I know it’s a passing phase; I know some siblings spar far worse; but I also know I’m plain tired of it. Tired of him singing about it from the time he wakes up; tired of wrestling toys away from one or the other all afternoon long. Tired of whacks and slaps and shoves and pushes between brothers. Yearning for a gentler touch.

. . .

Election season rolls round, and the churches roil over to uproar again, and I’m so tired of the factions, the fighting, the fear, and the ferocity with which we attack each other. Over and over again we become as bad as sparring siblings: we hit and hit, lashing out; one side’s sinners, the other side’s saints. I wonder if deep down we’re all craving God’s attention, clamoring for love like children, shoving at the siblings around us, slapping each other with name-calling and petty attacks. Where’s the Christ in that?

I hit, I hit, I hit my brother, no, I do not like hugs.

Contrary to Teresa’s wisdom – Christ has no hands but yours in the world – we use hands in many ways that aren’t holy, too. The slaps and shoves I see from my oldest to my youngest aren’t so far from my own fists balled in frustration, my palms slammed to the kitchen counter, my fingers pointed in pettiness. As they learn language I’m constantly coaching use your words, but how do I teach use your hands?

Maybe the more I fold them in prayer, bring them to heart’s center like my yoga teacher reminds, the more I model the gentleness of touch. Fingers that fix, palms that smooth, hands that hold, hug, help.

A heart that rests in God’s belovedness without elbowing the other children of God around me. Hands that don’t need to fight for attention.