Siblings without rivalry? Doubtful
By: By Lisa Smartt
The book title caught my eye, “Siblings Without Rivalry.” I didn’t buy it. I didn’t buy the book because I believe it should have been placed neatly next to the following books: “Chocolate Without Calories,” “Government Without Waste,” “Marriage Without Sacrifice,” “Preschoolers Without Tantrums” and “Children Without Dirty Bathrooms.” All these books are located in the “Out of the Realistic Realm of Possibilities” section at your local bookstore.
Sibling rivalry. We’re right in the middle of it at our house. Our boys, ages 10 and 12, have recently taken it to a whole new level. I knew the rivalry had gotten out of hand when I walked into the living room to find them challenging each other to see who could chew the most pieces of gum in less than a minute. Sugary gum syrup dripping from the corners of their mouths only spurred them on … driven by a quest for victory. They have set up competitions regarding bodily noises (don’t ask), plastic sword battles, spitting contests (I kindly requested this contest be held outside) and a contest to see whose hair could grow the fastest. One day I walked into the dining room to find them competing over who could suck a sour lemon the longest … which of course, led to a puckering contest.
Here’s the great mystery. In their extreme quest for brotherly dominance, I’ve been sadly disappointed at the things that DON’T motivate their competitive natures. For example, I have never once heard them challenge each other in the following ways:
“I can make my bed faster and neater than you can!”
“I bet I can perfectly detail the inside of the car faster than you can immaculately sweep the front porch!”
“I can pull more weeds from the flower bed than you can!”
“I bet I can make better grades and get fewer detentions than you … while obtaining the love and admiration of teachers and school officials everywhere!”
“I’m sure I can completely clean both bathrooms (including mirrors) before you can set the table neatly and create a beautiful flower arrangement as a centerpiece.”
“I bet I can write an inspiring poem about our wonderful mother before you can prepare a three-cheese omelette and serve her breakfast in bed.”
Yeah. I don’t know what it is about my guys. When it comes to real work, sacrificial service and academic accomplishment, the spirit of competition seems to die a painful death. Maybe they’re too tired from their “who can eat the most corn-on-the-cob in 10 minutes” contest and their “stinkiest sock” competition to focus on other more noble goals.
In a few days summer vacation begins. I’ll have the opportunity to spend several months with my two little boys. Even now I’m plotting ways to inspire them toward some healthy competition regarding yard work, reading, bathroom cleaning and sock folding. But even if I succeed at some of those noble goals, I have a feeling summer nights will still find two competitive little guys on the front porch engaging in “popsicle eating” contests and “long distance spitting” competition. And that’s perfectly fine. I think there is probably a great demand somewhere in the world for a boy who gets downright competitive about eating popsicles and spitting three feet off the front porch. At least that’s what I choose to believe. After all, I’m a boy mom.
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. Her book “The Smartt View: Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, The University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 5.21.08