Virtue and Mischief: War and peace


Day-to-day existence in the Swensen homestead contains a steady supply of drama. This is a hard truth for me, as I crave peace and quiet to a degree exceeded only by my desire for air, water and Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Sometimes the drama is predictable, sometimes it comes out of the proverbial blue, but it always—ALWAYS—involves one or more family members in conflict with something or someone else. Occasionally it is comical to those of us not directly involved: Who can resist sniggering when dad accidentally slams his big toe into the deceptively solid leg of the couch, for instance, and spends the next 15 minutes whelping like a pup left out in the cold and remonstrating against the inanimate piece of furniture for the unpardonable sin of being precisely where it’s been for the last eight years? Let’s face it. During the long, gray, frigid days of winter, watching the middle-aged pater familias whimper and scold the settee constitutes decent entertainment.

But usually, the theatrics are not fun or jocular. They are steeped in anger or distress. They must be endured, confronted, addressed. In our home, one gentle answer is usually insufficient to turn away wrath. It takes a dozen or two, depending on who and what is involved.

A few nights ago Luke had crawled into bed with Daniel, as he often does, the better (I think) to curry warmth and a sense of security as he tries to fall asleep. Proximity sometimes leads to mischief, though, and Daniel complained after a few minutes that Luke had used a scary voice, adding “I can’t fall asleep when I think there’s a monster in here!” Fair point. So I reprimanded Luke, he stopped, and peace was temporarily restored.

Ten minutes later I heard another commotion and traipsed back upstairs to the boys’ bedroom. “What’s going on?” I demanded.

“Luke won’t forgive me!” Daniel whined.

“You scratched me! You scratched me for no reason!” Luke interjected.

“It was an accident and I am sorry. I am. And you won’t take my apology!”

“Well, it hurt and you need to stop spazzing, Daniel. Sheesh.”

I was tired and had heard enough and at this relatively late hour wanted more than anything in the universe—yes, I admit it—QUIET. After ten minutes of playing one part UN Peacekeeper, one part WWF referee, I called a halt to the proceedings.

“Luke, go to your bed and stay there. Daniel: Enough. Be quiet. It would be terrific if you two could apologize, forgive, and move on, but for the moment I’ll settle for grudging silence and a commitment to fall asleep.”

I left the room to boyish harrumphing and heavy, angry sighs and I sat down at the edge of the stairs next to their room, out of their line of vision. I waited and wondered what, if anything, I would hear as I eavesdropped. After roughly three minutes of dead air, I received my answer.



“You know…this arguing is pointless.”

“I know. But you scratched me.”

“It was an accident. I’m sorry.”

“I know. [30 seconds of additional silence] I’m sorry for yelling.”

“OK. This is good,” Daniel added with a tone of satisfaction in his voice. I smiled as I rose from my perch, thinking the conversation had concluded. I stopped, though, when I heard a rustle coming from Daniel’s side of the room—a rustle that signaled one final, blessed, “maybe-it’s-worth-all-the-blood-sweat-and-tears” comment.



“You know…it’s better to be brothers who love each other.”


By Tim Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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