Jim Kayes’ blog: ‘It’s a debate Dad, not an argument’

Jim Kayes has been a journalist for 25 years. He survived growing up with four sisters and is now married with two daughters. This week he ducks below the crossfire of sibling rivalries.

“Dad,” the youngest began, “I’m in the front seat eh.”

It wasn’t a question. It was a statement, and it’s typical of the tortured negotiations that punctuate most parents’ lives in the never-ending battle of one-upmanship their children indulge in.

We used to have a really simple rule that saw both daughters confined to the back seat, the youngest on the left, the eldest on the right. Those were simple times, peaceful times.

Now the debate and discussion that precedes a trip makes the formation of this particular three-party coalition government, on the way to Rotorua, seem like child’s play. We had a 6 am departure as I had to go via Hamilton for a work commitment. The youngest, who understands and employs the concept that possession is nine-tenths of the law, was out the front door first, bounding to the ute and bouncing up into the front.

Similar tactics were used after the two-hour break in Hamilton with the added argument that “We are all set up where we are, and it’s too hard to shift”.

Back home, and a tussle more intense came when we began putting up the Christmas tree with the eldest employing the deft card of disinterest which left her sister to do all the initial heavy lifting. Once the tree was up, she sashayed in offering to help decorate the tree with an eye, I’m sure, to putting the crowning jewel on top – a rather battered angel.

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She should have known better. “You can help,” she was told, “but I’m putting the angel up.” It was a shrewd move well-played because I was nearby building a kitset bookshelf (the devil’s invention) and was in no mood for long deliberations.

The older one took it in her stride which surprised me till, a few days later when we were in the ute together, and I brought it up.
“It’s okay Dad. I’ve done it the past four or five years because every year I tell her she did it last year. Rookie mistake from that kid.” Inexperience can be costly in the sibling game to one-up. In my large family, one of our childhood bedrooms was big enough to share, so the battle was always on to avoid it.

It meant rooms were traded with skill and daring, but once, for an inexplicable reason, Mum made me share with my little sister. We get on superbly as adults, but we weren’t always best mates as kids so putting us together in a bedroom wasn’t the greatest of ideas. We used a piece of rope to divide the room and, of course, I would move it in my favour when she wasn’t around.

However, it was the phone that was the greatest source of competition in our family and hotly contested by my four sisters who, I reckon, could’ve outlasted religion with the time they spent on the phone. The phone sat just inside the dining room and beside a window so, for privacy (a rare thing in a family as large as ours), they would lean out the window.

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Once the youngest was leaning so far out, she slipped, whacking her funny bone on the edge of the outer edge of the window sill and fainting as a result. She was found by our oldest sister hanging, unconscious, out the window. I’m sorry, but it still makes me laugh. Does that make me bad, or just a brother?

The bathroom was another battleground especially as it contained the only shower and there were a lot of us. Long showers, to this bloke’s mind, should have been banned but how do you do that in a household of females? To this day – and it applies to my wife and daughters too – I have no idea what you lot do in the shower.

On the way home from Rotorua the eldest had taken charge of the front seat but two debates ensued before we had even left the hotel car park. The first was over control of the music – a dead end for the little one because position was as good as possession in this case with the controls at her fingertips.

So the fight swung around to how far forward the seat should be ratcheted to make room for the passenger behind. It was carefully and angrily measured.

“Why can’t you stop fighting over everything,” I implored, symbolically pounding my head into the steering wheel. “We’re not,” the youngest said with a sweet smile, “we’re robustly debating. It’s what you say you and mum do.”

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