Words. A source of such power. I had a front row seat reminding me of the resilient influence of words this week.
My children are growing up. It’s not the fact that they’re outgrowing their shoes or even wanting to bathe now that signified the change for me. It was the “rather game” that really exposed it.
The “Rather Game”, do you play it? You know the one where the kids ask you or each other “what you would rather?” It started when they were preschoolers, and I’d look for something engaging to talk about. A distraction, really.
“What would you rather – a cat with elephant ears or a bicycle that could fly?”
You know, abstract things to get the old noggin pumping.
Somewhere along the line the kids took over the choices in question, and it became a twisted mess of gross and disturbing choices.
“Would you rather eat cow poo or step in a snake pit in bare feet? Would you rather get bit by a scorpion or have a bath in a tub full of maggots?”
I don’t actually know how or why the questions got there. They play the game a lot, mostly in the car, but sometimes when we wait at the dentist or such. I have to admit, it’s a good way to pass the time. I still try the cutesy questions, but the kids have no interest unless it makes them squirm or gag.
I’m sure years from now it will come up in therapy, and somehow I’ll be to blame for the deep-rooted issues based on the disturbing game. But I digress.
Riding in the car the other day, my 7-year old daughter baits my 11-year old son with the game.
“Would you rather have just Maalik’s head, or the rest of his body and tail?”
(FYI – Maalik is our Golden Retriever, and my son’s most beloved family member – even more than his wonderful mother, I’m afraid. He loves his head and his tail equally.)
My son would have none of it. “Neither.”
“You have to pick one, his head or the rest of his body and tail? Which one?”
My daughter is on the edge of her seat waiting for his response, and it hits me – she’s no little kid anymore. She doesn’t just flit through life now, she maneuvers. And somehow in that growth spurt she has discovered his kryptonite. She has him, and she knows it. She presses him, pushes him to answer, because this is the game they have played for years. The game where you HAVE to pick. And the way they play the game, no choice is a good choice. And now…she has him right where she wants him. “Choose. You HAVE to.”
“No. Neither.” He wouldn’t budge.
“Then if you choose neither, you don’t get Maalik. Is that what you choose?”
My son took only a few seconds to think about it. “Okay, fine. I’d rather have none of him than just his head or body.”
“Ha!” My daughter was victorious. And in a weird way, I understand why. She’s had years of having to decide that she would eat poo, or would live for a year with an actual earwig in her ear in order to avoid a seemingly worse choice her brother gave her.
And then wave two hit me. My son, who has never heard the Judgment of Solomon, has just made the biggest sacrifice. He would rather not have him at all than have him torn in two. Self-sacrifice is a pretty big deal for a boy with his dog.
In the end, she was happy because she finally won the game. And he was happy because in the world of twisted mind games, he saved his best friend.
I could have stopped them at any time. I could have clarified that in fact this was just a game, and that there would be no sacrificial dog. But I was transfixed by the power of sibling mind games, and the power of words. Quite astounding really.
So if you think what you say doesn’t mean much, or what you write matters little – think again. Words are powerful in every form.
In other words, mean what you say, and say what you mean.