Oh, those school holidays, vacation days, and snow days…how I anticipated them when I was a child! What potential they offered! They were like a song in my heart I couldn’t wait to share with the world. Years later, I shared that enthusiasm with my children. We planned half-day excursions during teacher conferences and ventured farther for long weekends. Snow days meant snuggling in bed before heading outside to shovel. There were snowmen; there were snow angels. Always, there was hot chocolate made with real milk and chocolate waiting on the stove.
But that was before The Teen Years dawned.
Now I’m singing a different tune. Days off school still offer opportunities—potentially disastrous ones. Our family spends a lot of time together voluntarily and for the most part does very well. But when we have to spend time together, something happens: My teenagers become like large caged, drooling animals, circling one another, watching for a moment of weakness, waiting for the right moment to attack.
When they were young, if one crawled on top of another, I simply grabbed the back of a shirt and carted the attacker away like a piece of luggage—problem solved. They were easily distracted and easily calmed. In those days, the rules were simple: be nice, be loving. Unfortunately, they are no longer portable, so these days I have a new set of tried and true rules. that for the most part work well, as my 22 year old survivor—I mean, son—will attest. (Don’t ask the younger two.They’re only 12 and 14.)
- If you get hurt, you win. You get hugs from Mom, and Dad yells at your siblings when he comes home.
- If you bleed, you win. If you require a tourniquet, you win this fight and the next automatically. Winners go to Dairy Queen, once for each win.
- If a sibling breaks your arm or leg, you win. Winners get to choose the color of their casts, plus the punishment Dad will inflict on the losers. (But beware: if break your own arm or leg and blame it on someone else, you lose. Your sibling gets the photo I took of you proudly using a potty chair.)
- If I have to call an ambulance for you, you win. You can have any snack you want from the machines in the ER, and your sibling will pay. If you stay overnight in the hospital, you can have anything you want from the gift shop, and your sibling will pay. If you stay more than one day, you can order anything you want from eBay from your hospital bed, and your sibling will pay. If you require surgery, you can buy anyhing you want online and your sibling will pay. Dad and I will find a lawyer to attach his or her future wages. If you do not survive surgery, you automatically win. Forever.
- If you blind your sibling you lose. If a sibling blinds you, you win. (Even though the one who poked the other one’s eye out will be walking a lot due to losing car privileges, this does not mean that we will get a dog.)
- You can use any weapons you find or create, but be aware that while a fireplace poker, rake or lamp can hurt your opponent, you must be hurt worse to win. If you win, you can keep the car out past curfew. If you win but are too maimed to drive, you can have all the junk food you want for a year. If you win but your injuries prevent you from eating, you get comfy cashmere clothes and silk underwear—custom made so as not to interfere with your feeding tube. If the police can trace a weapon back to me or Dad, you will pay our lawyer fees, plus a mileage per diem for court appearances. We’ll work out a payment plan by which we continue to own you past your 18th birthday. If you are permanently maimed while using a weapon to attack a sibling, you will be left in the care of said sibling while we wrestle with the legal system.
- If you win but Mom and Dad are sued by traumatized bystanders, you lose. If you want to ever leave the neighborhood, you’ll have to hope the lawyers let you chauffer them in the luxury cars they’ll be buying with your inheritance. If you lose too often and can’t afford to date, eat at Chipotle or see a movie, then you’re welcome to sit at home with your parents and watch the Travel Channel. We can make popcorn and have family sing-alongs. And you can run back and forth to the refrigerator. (That way, Mom and Dad win.)