Hearing a squabble break out while doing the dishes, I headed to the living room.
Jonathan wanted his legos to watch James's legos play, but James didn't want Jonathan to watch because he says it distracts him, so I suggested Jonathan's legos watch from across the room. Not good enough. They cheer for James's game. Can't have that. I explained to Jonathan that James's game was like a pro golf game where the spectators are silent. They both agreed this would work.
I went back to the dishes.
Jonathan told James he didn't like to be silent. James told Jonathan a story. Jonathan thought it was funny, so he laughed. James claimed Jonathan was laughing at him. Jonathan said he was laughing at himself. James said he would only believe Jonathan for ten minutes.
Jonathan counted slowly to ten. James said that was only ten seconds, not ten minutes. Jonathan said his counting to ten did count as ten minutes because he wasn't using regular seconds. He was using split seconds. He counted sixty split seconds between each numeral from one to ten. James said Jonathan only waited ten seconds between each numeral. Jonathan said he waited sixty.
Then Rosy licked James's hand, and shortly thereafter, James put his hand on Jonathan's face in what I presume was an effort to physically dominate his brother and thereby force-change his opinion about the ten seconds vs. sixty seconds issue.
Jonathan, disgusted with the dog slobber on the hand in his face, bellowed the ultimate weapon. "I'M TELLING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
James pressed harder and bargained, "I'll stop if you won't tell."
Heartsick at their constant banter, I lifted a prayer to God. "What should I do, Abba?" My headphones reminded me the Lord my God is with me, and He is mighty to save. Especially when it comes to parenting.
Then God brought to mind something our babysitter said a few months ago. When she and her sister fought as children, her mom said, "You seem to have forgotten how to work together as a team... you'd better practice." Then she assigned them chores they had to do together.
Calling one boy at a time into the kitchen, I heard each side of the story. Then I made them stand still and wait while I rinsed some dishes, so they could dread my decision about their behavior for a few seconds. Let 'em sweat.
Then, slowly and deliberately drying my hands on a dishtowel, I said, "It looks like you forgot that you are brothers and best friends. You're behaving like enemies, and you've forgotten how to work together as a team. You need some practice."
Their eyes widened. Usually, when they scrap like that, I separate them (which they passionately hate).
I continued, "I want you to practice teamwork by cleaning the bathroom mirrors."
They frowned at each other.
"One of you will hold the rag, and the other will hold the cleaner."
They lifted their eyebrows and brightened up. That actually sounded... sort of... fun.
Explaining that if they fought while cleaning, they'd have to clean longer, I handed the cleaner to James and gave the rag to Jonathan. Then I showed them how to clean the bathroom mirror, one squirt and one swipe at a time. They did great. Jonathan pointed out to James where he'd missed a spot with the squirt bottle, and James pointed out to Jonathan where he'd left a streak with the rag. When the top of the mirror came into play, they switched. Jonathan pointed the squirter up and aimed, and James, who had an easier reached, swiped away.
They didn't fight while they worked, so I released them from their task after they finished the first mirror.
Both boys hesitated, looked sideways at me, and asked, "But what about the other bathroom mirror? Can we clean that one too?"
Uh... sure. Knock yourself out.
They did. They climbed up on the bathroom counter, squirting and swiping and chatting merrily along.
I went back to the dishes.
James called from the bathroom, "Hey, Mom. Can we clean the lights, too?"
Hesitating, I finally replied, "Turn them off first and wait for them to cool down so you don't get burned."
When they'd finished, they reported, "We're done! And we cleaned the lights, too! Come see!"
The mirror was a veritable cascade of dripping cleaning solution, but the lights sparkled and shone. James explained sheepishly, "Uh... we got a little carried away on the lights... that's why the mirror is dripping."
No problem. I swiped it clean with a towel and turned a blind eye to the light film of smear covering the entire surface of the glass. "Great job, guys!"
They puffed out their chests.
Next, I had them wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, explaining they needed to make sure they got all the cleaning solution off because it wasn't very nice to their skin. They took turns at the sink like little champs.
Before I released them back to their lego games in the living room, I said, "Now. The next time you fight, you get to wash the walls."
As much fun as the mirrors had been, washing walls still ranked in the Undesirable category. The boys looked at each other with worried brows and murmured, "Oh dear..."
Peace has reigned ever since.
To top it off, I mentioned this event to my landlord, and she added two exceedingly brilliant suggestions for the future. 1) Tie their left hands together and then assign a task, and 2) Straighten their arms with wrapping paper tubes and make them feed each other at mealtime.
Thank You, Abba, for my new parenting arsenal.