For a little while they have stopped fighting. They are united by the simple pleasure of creating a mess so spectacular that it will drive their mother insane.
I know that there is mess making afoot.
I can tell it will be momentous just by the sound of it.
But I ignore it.
The mess will still be there in five minutes when the united front has dissolved, and I am compelled to go in there and put distance between the screaming, jeering, girls and the boy with the mean left hook.
I know it is coming.
I can hear things beginning to break down.
I can hear the tones changing in their voices.
The exasperation with each other is growing by the second.
Before long a big girl will say something nasty to her sister or brother. The recipient of her poison tongue will lash out in retaliation.
I know how it will be, because they somehow manage to roll all my worst parenting moments into two minute fights, to be replayed, in all their glory, again and again.
I hear myself in their cutting words.
I hear myself in their ‘poor me’ laments.
I feel my own rage in the lashing out.
I see myself in the melt down tantrum when they can no longer get along.
It is not pretty.
I am not proud.
It makes me wonder how badly I have wrecked these children.
I try not to shame them, or bribe them, or manipulate them.
I try not to lose the plot.
I try not to yell.
I try to react to them losing the plot with understanding and grace.
I try to teach them better ways to deal with anger and frustration.
I try, but sometimes I fail.
To hear them fight with each other is to hear all the times I have failed.
All the times I have failed my children.
It makes me wonder how badly I have broken these children.
As if they are some fragile, pretty, thing that should be left on a high shelf to be looked at but not touched.
Is that how I view my children?
Are my children so precious that I can’t make mistakes without breaking them?
Or are my children more resilient that that?
Are they re-playing my mistakes to sort out how the world works in the safety of their own home, with their family who loves them?
I get up and make a move towards the disaster zone. Play has broken down into a screaming tangle of kicking feet and spitting raspberries, with a handful of hateful words thrown in for good measure.
I play judge, jury and executioner.
And I hope.
I hope my children are strong, capable and resilient.
I hope they learn from my mistakes, just like I do.