Sarah Simpson: What happens when kids make the rules

The art of learning to be together starts at a young age

Growing up, my family spent many a summer cruising the Gulf and San Juan Islands on our sailboat.

As a result, we spent many of our formative summers without friends, but with each other in tight quarters. We fished for ‘shiners’ (perch), we bombed around in the dingy, which with each passing year, got a little more horsepower, to the point where when we were young teens, we could actually water-ski behind it. We met other sea-faring kids and I even got a boyfriend out of the deal for a while there.

Anyway, the point was it was just my sister and I for long periods of time and we either had to get along or play alone.

We fought. I don’t remember what we fought about. Likely things like “she’s touching me!” “No I’m not, I’m almost touching her, that doesn’t count!” and having the no-nonsense parents we had, we were always told to sort it out ourselves. And somehow we always did.

I don’t know how it came about, and I suppose by all accounts it doesn’t matter — except that I’m telling you about it and I’d like to be accurate — but we eventually came up with a four-word solution to every one of our fights.

“It was your idea!”

That was it. The be-all-end-all comment that was the ultimate decision-maker.

We somehow figured out that our fighting would get to a point where one of us would shout out: “It was your idea!”

This would usually come about when, for example, we both wanted to jump off the bow and neither wanted to go first and we argued until one eventually belted out: “It was your idea so you have to go first!”

The fight would continue as long as nobody said those four words. But, if you broke, and declared it was your sister’s idea, you lost. You’d be the first jumper. It was the rule of law and we both abided by that rule…even more so than the rules set by our parents.

Don’t ask me why it worked so well. We were kids.

I’m most certain should my sister and I fight as adults, this rule would still apply, but I believe in that so much that I’m not going to risk testing it.

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As I watch my children interact during this period of isolation, I am reminded a lot of the relationship I built with my sister during those summers on the boat. My kids have only got each other right now and if they fight, they have to play alone, but still in a confined space together, which can be miserable if you’re not getting along. As such, devising your own rules of order can really help keep things copacetic.

Nothing rang true more than when we were in the garage the other day playing a made up game. We’ve taken to parking in the driveway and playing in the garage lately. I’d cleared space so I could work out but now it’s like out indoor-outdoor playroom.

I’d finished a giant can of coffee the other day and had given it to the kids because what kid wouldn’t like a giant tin can to play with? Before I knew it, they’d made up a game with a fuzzy tennis ball, some Velcro catchers they could hold in one hand, and their new tin can. Their game: play catch with the tennis ball Velcro game but whenever somebody dropped it (which was pretty much every throw) a challenge must be completed.

The first challenge was a dance-off. Whoever won that (as decided by my daughter, the defacto judge for some reason) got the ball to start the next throwing game.

They upped the ante for challenge number two. They put the ball on top of the overturned coffee can and whoever raced to it and grabbed it first won the next throw.

It peaked when they devised a challenge to scoop up the ball with a beach shovel and shovel it over to the other person who had to successfully catch it. That person had to toss it back the same way without dropping it before they could continue on.

Eventually their challenges got too confusing to play and they started to fight over the rules that they’d both created and both knew were fluid.

It started getting heated and tears were imminent.

One of them, I forget which, yelled “But it was my idea!”

I shut the game down right then and there.

I knew it was getting too serious.



sarah.simpson@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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