"I don’t like you any more," he tells me without provocation one morning as I’m making lunches and trying to coax some breakfast into the kids. I look at him blankly and he quickly rephrases: "I hate you."
The way he says it is curious, "I hay-te yoooo."
I probably should feel hurt, but as he stands there with his hands on his hips the right side of his face twists into a squint of cartoon proportion and I have to force myself to swallow a choking amount of laughter.
"It’s NOT FUNNY!" he rages. "I HAY-TE YOOOO."
"You don’t hate me," I say as matter-of-factly as possible and turn back to slathering peanut butter between two slices of bread. "You don’t hate anyone."
Technically, I know that’s not true either.
He hates a lot these days: the dog who steals his food and the cat who wakes him up at night; he hates the slightly mean characters on his favorite television show, as well as the charming ones; he hates pizza when he wants pasta and pasta when he wants pizza; he hates wind and rain and glaring sunshine. He hates pretty flowers and flowers past their prime. He hates taking baths and changing his clothes and wearing socks. He hates being barefoot.
I’m not the only one who has caught his wrath, either. He hates the babysitter and his grandparents. He hates his sister, who hates him right back. He hates when people "bother" him. He tells his sister from sun-up until sun-down he wants her to leave him "a-woan" as he cheerfully goes about playing with her things.
Hate, he’s learning, can be some powerful stuff.
Hate gets a lot of attention.
Of course, he also hates being alone, which is usually what happens when the smoldering volcano of animosity erupts between siblings, spewing fiery words back and forth until mom or dad is forced to use the nuclear option of peacekeeping techniques: "Go. To. Your. Room. NOW!!!!"
Afterward - for a moment - there is silence followed, usually, by the sound of four angry feet pounding up the stairs.
And then the screaming resumes.
I can tell from the direction of the insults hurled from one to the another, what the problem is now: They’ve gone to the same room — HIS — to serve out their sentences.
"It’s my room!"
"But I sleep here, too. These are MY stuffed animals."
"No, you go away!"
And then it happens — giggling.
It starts slowly — I imagine it may have begun as a smirk on Ittybit’s face — but soon turns into peels of laughter, followed by dancing and bed bouncing. Elephant could have made less noise.
By the time I get up the stairs to check on them, they are holding hands and swinging them back and forth together.
Soon it will be bedtime. After I’ve wrestled them into taking a bath, brushing their teeth and putting on their pajamas, they’ll sleep together on a staggered trundle. Hers on top, his along the floor.
The arguing will start again over books, and music and the bedtime games we play.
"MY monster has pink hair and eats pink grass and wears pink pajamas," he’ll say stubbornly.
"Well, MY princess wears pink shoes and a pink dress and eats pink ice cream sandwiches."
"My Princess," he retorts, "gets eaten by a shark and has ..."
“It’s my turn now. If your princess was eaten by a shark she is gone. End of story."
Oddly, he is satisfied with that explaination. He smiles.
"I missed you when you were at school," he tells her.
"I missed you, too."
"I hate you."
"I hate you, too."