- The sound of little feet running up the wood stairs and running across the playroom floor.
- The hardly audible sound of a large plastic drawer being pulled out of what I can only describe as a toy dresser, followed by the avalanching crash of 4,378 small cast metal cars being dumped on the floor!
- The sound of a 2.5-year-old and a 4-year old giggling and discussing automobiles in an almost-English language that they understand better than we do.
- The sound of increasingly louder words that I understand well and expected from the first sound of feet on the stairs:
- MAH-EEEEEEEEN!!!!!" (When establishing childhood pecking order, "mine" becomes a two-syllable word. The first syllable is shouted forcefully and the second syllable escalates in pitch and volume until it sounds like a member of the Vienna Boy's Choir on steroids with his robe on fire.)
At this point, Karen will yell up the stairs from the kitchen, "Stop fighting!! Why do you always fight!! You're brothers!!"
And I will mutter, "Exactly." Because that's what brothers do.
Whcih leads us to two important topics for consideration: Matchbox Cars and Alpha Males.
We have more toy cars than we know what to do with. Maybe that's the reason but I don't think so.
We have Hot wheels, Matchbox and at least three other miniature brands that I can remember but am not inclined to go dig through the piles in the playroom in the name of accuracy.
We have new ones and old ones. Brian's cars when he was his son's age. And some from Uncle Stephen's childhood collection. We even have some so old that they weren't even made in China but in Malaysia and Thailand. And there are two that were actually made in England and would probably be worth a fortune if they had all four wheels.
You might think that 400 or 500 toy cars should be enough for two boys. But 396 or 496 of these cars are irrelevant. Within the pile are the four cars that count. Even when playing alone, Conner can get frantic: "Where's my red car!!"
Difficult for me to respond to this basic need since there are probably more than 200 red cars. But over time, I have learned which car he is talking about. And I understand it. Maybe it is a male thing. At 67 years old, even I have a couple of favorites in the pile -- a Nissan Turbo Z and a vintage Aston Martin that I have coveted since my son, their father, was a child. For awhile, I even kept the Z in my desk drawer to protect it.
But none of this is about cars anyway. Each brother knows the other brother's favorite car. As soon as the cars are dumped on the floor, the boys dive into it like the Green Pay Packers on a fumble. I used to think they were trying to gain possession of their own favorite cars but they are really trying to get possession of each other's favorite cars. That way they can wave it in their brother's face.
In the NFL, the referee would throw the yellow flag and charge the offender a 15 yard penalty for taunting.
The screams of young Alpha Male wanna-be's.
Until Karen stops yelling at them and turns on me. "Aren't you going to get off the couch and do something?!"
I know that the first answer that pops in my mind ("Not unless bleeding in involved") is NOT the correct answer so, reluctantly, I go upstairs to settle it.
I also know that this is not a problem of good manners or etiquette or the most recent flavor of childhood development theory. It is a problem of anthropology and evolution. Therefore, the tools of pleading, instruction, negotiation, manipulation, bribery, and even parental discipline are only going to be minimally effective.
So I walk into the toy room and perform the ogre roar from Shrek II. It is the commanding Alpha Male roar of all evolutionarily advanced large mammals -- lions, gorillas, etc.
Except for whales which, I think, are even more evolutionarily advanced than humans and do not need to roar. Either that or whales have given up roaring because underwater roaring only results in a lot of large bubbles which then causes laughter in the other whales they are trying to impress.
Hey! Maybe that is the next step in human evolution -- to establish dominance through giggling. I kind of like that idea. Wars could be conducted through stand-up comedy routines. Come to think of it, politicians are already moving in that direction.
But I digress, as usual. I, the true Alpha Male of the house, roar and the kids stop screaming at each other and start trying to make a legal case to me. "I had it first! No, I had it first! Etc. Etc." Whereupon, I fall back on the wisdom of Solomon and threaten to cut it in two. Although, truth be told, I think that it would be a real challenge to try and cut a Matchbox Car in two even if it was made in China.
So I just say, "Come on, guys. Play nice."
Which usually works for an hour or so.
While I have focused, here, on the Alpha Male, I should note that humans have evolved -- a little -- beyond lions and gorillas. Most of our prides and packs and families are now, thankfully, controlled more by the Alpha Female with the exception of some members of the National Rifle Association.
The Alpha Male Ogre Roar is almost always trumped by the Alpha Female Look. The Look is silent and deadly. It is done with a slow turn of the head and a stare that was first developed and patented by Medusa.
After roaring, I always prepare for The Look - even if I was only responding to her request to get off the couch and "do something."
The Look instantly turns me to stone and lasts as long as is needed for me to process, within the granite of my head: the socially incorrect use of roaring, all other recent guilt-producing errors of my ways, the wisdom of whales and the contents of 40,000 self-help books.
Having had years of practice, I can complete this internal act of contrition in five seconds or less.
After which, we all demonstrate forgiveness and love to each other by changing the subject and discussing the lives of celebrities.