Playing the Referee

My friend Annie tells me that when her kids get home from school each day she dons her striped referee jersey and gets out the whistle. Let the arguments begin! I know just what she means. And you know what the experts tell us? Don’t get involved. Let them settle their own arguments.

I do try. I try until I am sure blood is going to flow from one of their young bodies. I try until the volume and pitch of their disputes just shock my brain into action. Then I do what every other parent does: I get smack dab in the middle of it. Whistle blowing, arms waving, mouth screaming.

Last week my children discovered a most coveted possession: a stick. A stick. Immediately the argument began as to just whose stick this is. You see, my daughter saw it while playing on the swing set, but my son ran over it and his foot touched it. She was the first one to pick it up, but she let it go, and he picked it up. You’re probably getting the idea, and it’s all too familiar.

There are rules in Kidland that I am still trying to figure out, but they include the following: If you desire the object, even slightly, it is worth fighting for. No amount of reasoning will change that. Also, if you ever touched, saw or even expressed a desire for an object, it is yours.

Just then my sister called from out of town. Over pleasant chat I could be heard to scream, hand over the receiver: “Give the stick to your brother!! Do it now!!” Then into a threat: “Stop fighting over that stick or I’ll take it away from both of you!” My sister, calmly observed, “This reminds me of the story of King Solomon. You should look that up in the Bible.”

You know, many of us consult Dr. Spock or any one of the many childhood gurus, but I thought, “Why not? I’ll just go right to the top and consult the Big Guy.” And there it was, right in the book of Kings.

It turns out arguments like this have been happening since the dawn of time, kind of a comfort to me, I must admit. Essentially, Solomon had to act as referee to two women fighting over a baby. King Solomon said, “Divide the baby in half.” At which point the real mother said, “Oh no, sir! Give the child to her — don’t kill him!” Thus we have the Wisdom of Solomon.

I told a group of moms at a church luncheon about the Big Stick argument and about how King Solomon might have solved it. One woman in the group is from a Uruguay. She said, in her clipped, rapid English, “You know, I agree with King Solomon. When my sister and I used to argue over a doll, my mom used to rip the doll in half. And that was the end of that.”

She demonstrated with a quick imaginary split of the hands. Each one of us stopped in mid-chew to contemplate such a scene: Two very shocked little girls looking at half a doll, stuffing falling onto the floor, limp limbs hanging. Did they cry, did they scream? We’ll never know, but one thing is for sure: they never fought over an object again.

So, next time, will I crack that now long forgotten stick over my knee? Walk away from the stunned silence and inevitable tears, knowing “that was the end of that?” Or do I continue to holler, beg and threaten during these incessant kid battles?

I could always do what the experts say: Stay out of it. I guess that’s why they’re the experts, and I’m not.

The thought of a broken stick, a torn doll, a smashed bicycle is more than I can bear. Actually, the look on my kids’ faces is more than I can bear. So for now, I keep that whistle in my back pocket. The offside flag tucked into my waistband. And I really, really try to stay out of it. And I hope and pray for the Wisdom of Solomon.

Martha Wegner is a freelance writer and mother of two.