School bells are ringing again. That reminds me of the good old days when we had eight kids at home, and the last few weeks of summer vacation were the absolute peak of the quarrel, quibble, fight and argue season.
Way back then, my friends and I agreed that kids will fight over anything or nothing, for any reason or no reason, at any time. Usually the battles reached their worst or best, depending on your point of view, right after July 4, which was about the middle of summer vacation.
Occasionally the peak of the battle season would fall about two weeks before the beginning of the new school year. Such was the case back in August of 1969.
On Sunday the 3 year old was screaming at the top of his lungs. How he managed to scream with a huge wad of gum in his mouth without choking was a mystery. When he finally shifted the gum to one jaw and stopped shrieking, we discovered the reason for his outrage. “The other kids took all the bubble gum!”
Next the two youngest boys came in with gritty, dusty dirt sifting from their heads and clothes with every step. Their eyes flashed with righteous indignation. So did mine, “What have you been doing?” I demanded.
“Nothing!” they replied. Then, pointing to a slightly older brother, they continued. “He threw dirt at us!”
The brother was summoned, and I asked, “Why?”
“They took one more step after I told them to stop,” he explained self-righteously.
“I told you not to throw anything at anybody,” I reminded him.
“You said not to throw rocks or stones at the kids across the street even when they throw first. Those two were here in our yard, and I just threw dirt!”
With a combination of words and actions I think I taught him never to throw anything at anyone.
It was amazing how children could find loop holes in rules. Squirt guns were outlawed at our house, so someone got even for something by squirting everyone in sight with the hose. That form of revenge was eliminated, and I although they understood it was not only the changing of wet clothes but also the vast amount of mud dragged into the house.
Next thing I knew the whole crew was out back with water filled detergent bottles releasing hostilities by making one grand muddy mess of each other and the whole backyard.
Not only were the summer battles wild, they were also constant. Before one ended another one began. Most frequent causes were, “He was looking at me, “He ignored me,” “She came into my room,” “She wouldn’t help me clean the room,” “He hid my shoe,” and “He turned off the TV.” The last complaint was from one who was playing in the backyard when the television was turned off.
Way back then parents would reach the point where it seemed the only way to keep up with the kids was to spank the whole bunch as soon as they got up in the morning for whatever they were going to do that day to deserve a spanking. Of course, that was back in the days when a properly administered spanking was not considered child abuse.
It was in August of ’69 that I accidentally discovered why kids were still battling so late in the season. One of them overheard my fervent prayer offered through clenched teeth, “God, please give me strength. Just one more week of vacation!”
“Just one more week of vacation?” one of the girls repeated in disbelief.
“Oh, yes,” I affirmed.
She quickly passed the word to the other four who had to return to school. They were stunned. That pretty well ended the domestic wars. They were too busy making the most of the last of their summer vacation to fight over unimportant details – just over the important things, like “He hit me first!”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was first published in the Greenville Advocate on Sept. 5, 2007.