In our house, the children’s bedrooms are right next door to each other. Believe it or not, this seemed like a good idea at the time. In retrospect, however, I realize that this makes about as much sense as placing India next to Pakistan. It also makes me the Peacekeeper—the UN of the house, as it were. Actually, that’s a fairly good analogy for what I do, because, just like the UN, my arrival on the scene is usually a signal that things are about to get a whole lot worse.
My biggest problem is that—just like the UN—I usually have no idea what caused the dispute in the first place. In fact, in my experience the true root of the problem usually lies so far back in the depths of time that no one actually knows what started it. (In the case of India and Pakistan, this might mean one guy stole a goat from another guy back in 1534 C.E. In the case of my children, however, this usually means something like one child snuck in and stole the pillow out from under the sleeping head of another at five o’clock that morning). Either way, one thing is certain: nobody’s getting the real story now.
What this means is that—again, just like the UN—my role is not to solve problems but simply to keep the two warring parties as far away from each other as possible. However, since my kid’s rooms are not only right next door to each other, but also on the opposite side of the house from mine, this works out about as well as trying to keep peace in Asia from an office in New York City.
Here’s a typical scenario: A door slams shut in the middle of the night. A howl of protest (calculated to pierce a sleeping parent’s subconscious) arises. I stagger out of bed and make my way through the kitchen, the dining room and the living room, where, like a negotiator who has just hopped the red eye out of New York and is now standing bleary-eyed on the tarmac at the Islamabad Airport, I try to make the whole thing go away.
“She–,” says Pakistan.
“Me?” splutters India indignantly.
“Both of you please just go back to bed. Leave each other alone, just for one night.”
“You always take his side.” India slams her door.
“Can I sleep with you?” Pakistan sees this as just another opportunity to worm his way back into the UN’s bedroom. It has taken the UN eight years and numerous bribes involving Spiderman sheets to move him out, and the UN doesn’t want to backtrack—but it also doesn’t want to have to stay up any longer. “Please?” Pakistan puts on his angelic face, making the UN’s decision a little easier.
“Okay. But only for tonight. And–”
“I knew it!” India screeches from her doorway.
Pakistan sticks out his tongue.
And the nuclear clock ticks one minute closer to midnight.
At times like these it’s hard to remind myself that one of the reasons we had two children was so that they could enjoy each others’ company. Nowadays I just remind them that if one of them should happen to kill the other one, the surviving child will then have to bear the burden of my long-term care by themselves. “If you kill your brother at the pool today,” I’ll remind Clementine, “you can forget about taking that twenty-fifth anniversary trip to Italy.”
Of course, here is where the UN analogy falls short, since it would appear that no one is ready to take responsibility for the UN in its dotage. Or maybe that just makes the analogy more apt; after all, Clementine has been awfully interested in Sarah Palin’s “death panels” lately.