"He stole my gnome and then he pinched me on my foot."
"Well, she tookt my esperamint and woozent given it bact."
They've been bickering all morning. He coveted her Lego Gnome figurine with the fishing pole and hat set at a jaunty angle. She wanted his Mad Scientist with the pointy, rubber wig and plastic beaker filled with green bubbles. Neither wanted to trade.
MOM! I NEED YOU!
When they stood shoulder to shoulder at the kitchen door trying to prevent the other from getting to me first, I wanted to run away from home.
The only thing keeping me from screaming right there and then was a case of allergy-induced laryngitis.
"You," I croaked, pointing toward my son: "Stop touching your sister. And you," I turned to my daughter: "Stop tattling on your brother, and handle this yourself. You are a big girl."
Her eyes got all big and she clutched at her chest as if mortally wounded from being falsely accused.
"Me? I'm not tattling. Tattling is when you tell something that isn't true about a person, and he most definitely PINCHED me AND took my Lego. It's not fair."
"No. Telling a lie is 'fibbing.' Tattling is when you tell of someone's actions, hoping to get them into trouble. It's really a breach of confidence."
"No it's not. Not telling when someone hits you is letting them be bullies, and it's not allowed. You have to speak up. Anyway, you're the parent. You are supposed to tell him to apologize for hitting me and then get back my toy."
All I wanted to do was soak my throat in a mug of warm tea and honey, and arguing with a seven-year-old over my perceptions of the effectiveness of Zero Tolerance polices wasn't going to get me anywhere.
The bickering continued and I thought I would lose my mind. Even our mostly-deaf, incontinent dog started to bark, presumably because one of my warring minions had left their breakfast uneaten and teetering just out of her reach.
The only recourse I could muster at that moment was to let loose the full power of my rage and hope it didn't do permanent damage to my vocal chords or the children's tender hearing.
"OK! EVERYBODY STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP! TO YOUR SEPARATE CORNERS! NOW!"
My voice sounded like a cartoon. And yet, only the cat, who launched herself three feet straight up into the air and then shot into the next room as if her tail were on fire, seemed to be upset by my Exorcist-like outburst.
I felt bad for scaring the cat. A little, anyway.
Everyone else (except for the geriatric dog, who still wanted the waffles) started to laugh at the feline's fleetness.
And then a real, Miracle of Supply happened. The boy handed back the girl's Lego and she in turn told him to keep it.
It must have been a true hardship to have lost the appetite for bickering just when the rewards were greatest. For I could see in their eyes how much they wanted to see their old mom make the cat fly again.