Mornings are hectic. I call the kids down for breakfast many, many times before they finally arrive with bleary eyes and messy hair. Most mornings, I am done with breakfast before they make it down but, yesterday, they both got downstairs before I was finished. They sat on the couch - one at each end with legs outstretched - and covered themselves with the old blanket and then I heard their voices getting louder - the sign of some mysterious, escalating conflict. When I stepped into the living room, Zeca was saying to Miguel, "I just said that it would be easy for people to mistake you for a 9-year-old because you're so small!" He replied, "You are stupid and you're being such a jerk!" to which she answered, "Well, you are short and you're being a jerk too!" I told them to separate which they did but, when I went back to the kitchen, I heard more yelling and went back in to find Zeca on top of Miguel trying to hit him while he had her other hand bent behind her back. I snapped.
"GO TO YOUR ROOMS UNTIL BREAKFAST IS READY!"
They both tried to tell me everything that had happened since coming downstairs, accusations and excuses hitting me like a massive wave.
I walked away and they did too.
When breakfast was ready and they sat down to eat, they sneered at each other across the table and words started pouring out of me without thought.
"Someday, Mãe and I will be gone and you'll only have each other. The relationship you have depends on what you make it."
Miguel stared at me, "Mom…"
"No. I mean it. Do you love each other?"
They both nodded.
"Would you be upset if something happened to the other?"
They both nodded.
"Then, act like it. Tomorrow is promised to no one. Be kind to each other."
I walked away and sat in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and thought, "Well done, Vikki. 'Here kids - have some scrambled eggs with a side of mortality and guilt.'"
Later that morning, as we drove to school, I explained that their fighting was annoying but, more than anything, it made me sad and that's why I had reacted so strongly. Then, I asked, "Do you know how Mãe and I have stayed together for over 20 years? Do you know our secret?"
"We know each other better than anyone and know each other's sensitive spots and we never poke at those when we're angry." I explained that the same was true for them. They know each other better that anyone and they know every sensitive spot the other has. "If you want to have a good relationship, you need to stop poking at those places when you're angry." They both told me they understood.
I would love to say that they never fought again and we all lived happily ever after but, of course, they got in another argument last night and again this morning. I just have to hope that someday, if I say it enough, they'll stop poking.