Eddie had a play date the other afternoon with his friend, West. I’d become friendly with West’s mother, and we were looking forward to an hour or two in which our boys, who are both only children, would have someone other than ourselves to entertain them. I poured each of us a glass of wine, put out a plate of cheese, and we both sat down on the couch for some nice adult conversation.
Only a couple of minutes had passed when I got up to close the front door and noticed the cup of tea I’d left on the dining room table was on its side. West had thrown Eddie’s ball across the room, knocked over my cup, and there was now a pool of tea on my table that I didn’t initially notice because my beautiful vintage flowered tablecloth had soaked it all up. The tablecloth, now laden with liquid, left a giant water stain on the wood table beneath.
As I wiped up the tea, I could hear in the next room the distinct sound of candy canes falling off of my Christmas tree and onto the floor. West had thrown something else — perhaps a block or a car. I didn’t see — and it knocked the canes off the tree. One of them was now in his mouth.
Soon, everything was turned upside down and dumped onto the floor. It’s like when The Cat in the Hat visits those two children on that cold, cold, wet day, and everything – the book and the rake and the picture and the cake – are stacked up in the air until they all come crashing down. There were now puzzle pieces and cars sprinkled around my living room like stars. There were musical instruments and a jug scattered all over my rug.
My home is not neat. In fact my husband, Bruce, is constantly complaining about how much stuff we have. Every shelf, table top and counter has so much stuff on it, there are times I’ll have something in my hand and can’t find a place to put it down. Bruce’s brother’s house recently burnt down after an electrical short in the wall caught fire, and his family lost everything. My husband and I were actually envious. He was given a clean slate. Our lives were cluttered with stuff and nonsense, collected over the years because each item, when considered on its own, seems so very important.
Still, our stuff is organized in a manner to which we’re accustomed. I know where everything is. There are toys and games all over the place floor, but the books are in one pile and the puzzles are in another. The legos are in a plastic container by the end table, and the musical instruments are stuffed inside the base of a toy drum. Trains go upstairs in Eddie’s room. Cars stay downstairs, in a cardboard box on the floor. And anything that winds up on the wrong floor, from shoes to bills to sweaters, is placed in a pile on the staircase so that upstairs items can be brought back upstairs as one is climbing up the steps, and downstairs items can be brought back down as one is making their way downward. West was destroying my thin thread of organization like someone might unwittingly destroy a spider’s whole system of order by knocking a few cob webs out of the way with their hand.
But that afternoon, it wasn’t just the mess that was getting to me. It was the constant bickering. Every time one would pick up a toy, the other would tug on it, saying, “Noooooo. Mine.” The whole afternoon was a negotiation. “Well, if you take that one, he can have this other one,” I would say, or “Now, at his house, you played with West’s toys, so now at your house…” I would tell Eddie.
I got up for a minute to get something in the kitchen, when Eddie suddenly began to wail. I ran back into the living room and Eddie was sitting on the couch, and there was a wooden stick next to him that belonged to one of his musical instruments. West had just thrown it at Eddie’s head.
“It didn’t hit him. I watched it!” Kathy said. “It went right by his head, but it didn’t hit him.”
I took my hand and wiped the tears on Eddie’s face and kept asking him, “What? What? Where does it hurt? Did you get hurt?”
Tears kept streaming down his cheeks, and his face was red.
“I saw what happened. It didn’t hit him,” Kathy said.
“He probably just got scared,” I said. “I’ll get ice.”
“I’ll get it,” Kathy said, and she ran into my kitchen.
“Grab the bag of frozen peas. It’s on the door,” I said.
I put the bag on Eddie’s head and within a minute, a little egg the size of a marble formed above his eyebrow. Apparently the stick did hit him. No wonder he’s crying, I thought.
“West. Come over here and say you’re sorry,” Kathy said.
West walked over and didn’t say anything.
“Go on. Tell Eddie you’re sorry.”
“Sorry,” he said. At least that’s what I think he said. His voice was barely audible. He then went back to the more important task of sitting down at Eddie’s toy piano and banging on the keys with Eddie’s drumsticks. After a couple of minutes, Eddie pushed the bag of peas off of his head, hopped down from the couch and walked over to where West was sitting and began bumping into him with his chest, like a basketball player might do when he’s trying to block his opponent from shooting.
I watched with amazement. I’d never seen my son go on the offensive. But after watching West bang on his piano, he’d finally had enough and got up from the couch and went to battle to protect his turf. I was glad my son was defending himself and the things he valued but a little saddened for what it might mean to their friendship.
West soon stood up and moved on to other things. A few minutes later, he was walking into the kitchen with a large pail of building blocks and was about to dump them out onto the floor.
“No, West!” Kathy said.
“It’s okay. Those are fun. He’ll like those,” I said. I hoped it would occupy him for just a couple of minutes so that he didn’t dump something else onto the floor.
Eddie had stopped crying, but his face was still red and his nose was now running. I felt really bad for him. He had been so excited when I told him West was coming over. And yet from his perspective, for the last half an hour, this person came into his house, ransacked his toy box, and then threw one of his toys at him like a cartoon character might fling a brick at someone’s head. I felt like I brought someone into my home who terrorized my son.
The funny thing was, West had actually been excited about the visit as well. In fact the reason they came over was because Kathy said ever since the play date we had in early December, when we made Christmas cookies and danced around the kitchen, West had been saying, “Eddie’s house!. Eddie’s house!” It was only after he began throwing things around the house this time around that I remembered how he’d thrown sprinkles and sugar all over the kitchen when we made cookies and then spit something out onto my bathroom floor.
After about half an hour, Kathy said, “I think we’re going to go.” She quickly packed up their things, and I helped her carry the stroller down my porch steps. When we got it to the bottom, she strapped West in to the carriage, and I ran back inside to grab Eddie, who was pressed against the screen door wanting to come out.
Eddie and I walked over to West’s stroller, and the two boys bid each other goodbye. West then extended his arms out as best he could, given that they were strapped into the stroller, and Eddie reached in, and the two boys gave each other a hug. And with that, the bruises and turf wars fell away and the slate was wiped clean.