"No YOU stop!"
The argument gets too loud to ignore, and by the time I reach their room, both of my sons are crying and red-faced. They immediately begin pleading their respective cases, in unison.
"He was punching my neck!"
"He's going to break my bones!"
Even though I have over twenty years of experience in conflict resolution and mediation, I have no idea how to approach this moment. I physically place myself in between the combatants and command them to keep their hands to themselves. A la Bill Cosby, I make some demand that is so utterly unenforceable that I almost have to laugh. ("No one here is ever going to touch anyone else in here EVER AGAIN!") My voice has raised once more, despite my continuing resolve not to yell. I try the Love and Logic approach: "You're draining my energy. It's going to be sad when you ask me for something later and I have no energy to give it to you. It's going to be very sad."
They seem to buy this and, despite murmuring insults under their breath, the melee has subsided for the moment. And in the brief ceasefire, I suddenly remember my father, the way he would flail and pull at our limbs to pry my brother and me off of each other. Sometimes we had a handful of each other's hair and wouldn't let go; this was not uncommon, and I still recall the throbbing pain and actual bump that would rise from my scalp, after my brother had finally let go.
My father, near to tears often called out to my mother for help. This was usually when my brother and I would look at each other and decide, wordlessly, to let go. We knew that once our mother arrived, the situation would be at a new level. We knew we couldn't manage her the way we could our dad. Her way of separating us was swift and painful -- two quick "baps" with the base of her ring finger, so that the hard metal of her wedding ring sent a nerve-shaking pain that shot down to my feet and back up to my skull.
As my brother and I tell it, the final solution to the Boy Fight problem came when my father bought us boxing gloves. In my memory, my victory was swift -- a quick jab to his jaw, and down Mike went, never to challenge me again. Of course, I'm sure it wasn't such a simple fix, (in fact, when you look at the photograph above, my brother appears to be giving at least as good as he's getting) and I doubt the same would work for me and my kids today. Jeanette and I will stick with the Love and Logic, and I'll do my best not to let them "manage" me in the same way Mike and I managed our father. As I grew up, I picked up on a resentment my mother had for my father; it must not have been easy for her, always being the "bad cop." I am determined not to let this same dynamic play out in my present-day family, because I see the kind of strain it can potentially put on a marriage. But I'll be damned if isn't playing out anyway, despite all my efforts.
Genetics are a serious bitch.