Updated: Mar 15, 2019
I might have mentioned Tom works away once a month for a week or two over in the US. He tends to leave us on a Friday, fly out on a Saturday and then return the following Sunday, very tired, stressed and jet-lagged but happy to be home. We're always very happy to have him home.
Each time he goes away it takes me and the boys at least a few days to adjust to everyday life at home without him. By a few days I mean usually five or six. And by adjust what I mean is the boys behave like actual gibbons. Gibbons that hate each other. In fact I sometimes wonder whether an actual pair of wild gibbons might be easier to parent than Lyall and Rich - they would probably cause less mess and smell better.
So, what does this bad behaviour look like? Well. It begins the very moment Tom leaves, with Richard relentlessly provoking fights.
Not known for subtlety - Richard will proudly make it his mission to trip up, punch, flick the head of, kick and push Lyall around, usually just as I look away, to provoke a response. Lyall, wanting to be a good boy and get on with life peacefully attempts to ignore Richard's fuckery (sorry, Mum) but there's only so many bogeys flicked into one's face a boy can ignore before the proverbial wire snaps.
As soon as Lyall retaliates for the first time, the flood gates of squabbling open and the boys fight like, well, brothers, incessantly for at least three days.
More often than not, I'll miss Richard's original kick, punch or flick and instead will first see Lyall launching a counter-attack. I don't know who to tell off so I put one boy on the naughty step and the other in the naughty corner in the kitchen. Now the boys are old (nine and ten) this kind of punishment is pretty futile, to be fair, but in the absence of a better idea I stick with it anyway. All this is an enormous, stressful pain in the arse for me. I like to plan a busy itinerary of special treats, trips, meals and all manner of fun stuff to numb the homesickness we all feel when Tom's not here. But my efforts are inevitably spoiled by the three of us squabbling and fighting with each other all day long.
Thanks to the ordinary school routine during the week, the boys usually return to business as usual by Tuesday evening, allowing me a little respite from the constant nagging and tellings off.
One thing I've learned is the pattern of gibbon-like behaviour will still occur whether or not I intervene and intervening only serves to add a wound-up Daddy into the equation.
Last week when Tom went away, I decided I might try a slightly different approach. I thought I'd sit back and ignore the small things to see if the boys might burn out a little quicker. And it worked, kind of! I mean, the boys still continued to fight, argue, steal stuff out of each other's bedrooms and fart at each other. But, I sat back (with a nice glass of wine during the weekend I might add) and tried to ignore it.
Funnily enough, I actually started to find Richard's blatant naughtiness strangely admirable and at times quite hilarious. Watching their fighting from the perspective of innocent bystander I realised how clumsy and silly they both are - it made me smile. When there was a threat of one of the boys getting hurt, I simply got in between them and stuck my hands out like a scarecrow, sending them in opposite directions. No naughty steps or corners, shouting or pointing.
So, quite a good result, really. Rather than intervening and making myself red and angry all weekend, ignoring the small things seems to be the way forward. Fingers crossed the boys start actually getting on at some point, although I won't hold my breath!