By J. Shane Mercer
The weather in this part of the country is fantastic for the three months of the year when there isn’t snow on the ground. Still, that leaves about eight or nine months when the outdoors is less than inviting and getting kids outside is a challenge. As far as I’ve been able to determine in my decade as a father, children are, in terms of socialization, located somewhere between cave people and feral animals. And you know what happens to animals that are trapped? They lash out, attack, and go mad. But, in contrast to the case of caged animals, we parents are bolted inside with these mad creatures.
Granted, the madness is induced by boredom and not fear in our case, but it is madness nonetheless. Even otherwise good-natured children will turn on each other, finding creative and novel means of causing irritation solely for the purpose of gaining some—indeed, any—sort of sensory stimulation.
For those who are parents, you don’t need this spelled out. You know. But for non-parents, a hypothetical example could be helpful. One sister—call her Sibling #1—might set a Barbie doll down next to her sister on the couch. Innocent enough. But the doll is crowding Sibling #2 a bit, so she scoots herself over to the right about four inches or so. Sibling #1 notices this cause-and-effect and is intrigued, so she moves the doll toward the recently-relocated Sibling #2 again. And Sibling #2 moves again.
“I’m controlling another human. What fun!” thinks
They repeat this scenario until Sibling #2 finds herself on the arm of the couch and screams in frustration, “Da-aaaad! Sibling #1 is scooting her doll over next to me!”
Sibling #1 responds with a look of absolute incredulity, as if to say, “What a ridiculous charge my sister has foisted upon me. She must be mad to make a to-do about such trifling matters!”
It’s genius, of course, because not only has Sibling #1 broken through the monotony of winter (if only for a brief moment), but she’s done so through an act of such mind-numbing commonness that Sibling #1 can fool herself into believing she is entirely innocent. Furthermore, because the act of placing a doll next to one’s sister is so apparently benign, Sibling #2’s cries appear to be evidence only of her own irrational delusions. How can you, the parent, reprove your child for the simple act of setting her doll down in close proximity to her sister?
“Why doesn’t she just move over?” you wonder to yourself.
It all makes no sense. So you yell something ambiguous and non-partisan, like, “Everybody, be nice.” (Who, after all, can argue with such timeless, sage advice?)
Since her appeal to the parental court has fallen on deaf ears, Sibling #2 retrieves and subsequently places her own Barbie directly next to Sibling #1 with all the subtlety and tact of a senior diplomat. The above scene is then replayed with equal rage and exaggerated confusion, only, this time, with the roles reversed.
This pattern continues until a massive feud breaks out. You, the parent, have no idea who started it, or really what it even is, and you can’t just send them outside because it’s 40 below zero. The past 12 years of winter-induced fights have left you half mad yourself and you simply want the small war in your living room to end. So you make a ridiculous and utterly unenforceable rule—NO ONE is allowed to place anything in close proximity to any other person in the family. This decree will inevitably lead to endless wrangling over how many inches constitute “close proximity”; painstakingly precise measurements of the distance between the object and the alleged offender’s knee or buttocks prints in the carpet; and investigations into whether the individual or the object was first in the area of dispute, as this determination is central to establishing who actually breached the “Proximity Rule” (as it has come to be known). And that’s when things go negative in the winter.
But the “positive” or “happy” side of things is equally trying. There are few sounds in the universe as sweet and melodious as the laughter of children…in summer…outside. But there are few sounds in the universe as irksome as a child’s winter giggles, a phenomenon typically accompanied by their bouncing off walls and furniture like Ping-Pong balls in a wind tunnel, as they emit ear-piercing shrieks of semi-psychotic euphoria. It is a mild form of temporary insanity. Sadly, more than 200 children are hospitalized each year as a result of injuries suffered while engaged in winter giggles. OK, not really. It’s the parents who suffer.
J. Shane Mercer is the digital marketing specialist at The Village Family Service Center. He and his wife, Amy, live in Fargo with their three children, Ariana (10), Talia (10), and Will (6).
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