Hayden, Anna and Lilly roughhouse while the Molinaris are stationed at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2011.

Hayden, Anna and Lilly roughhouse while the Molinaris are stationed at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2011. (Courtesy of Lisa Smith Molinari)

First, we’d hear giggling. Then a sharp squeal. The creak of the mattress springs, a bump on the wall, a muffled “Ouch!” Then more giggling.

“Kids! Knock it off!” my husband, Francis, would yell from his recliner. There would be a brief moment of silence, and then the ruckus would start all over again.

I’m not sure why we were conditioned to feel agitation when we’d hear our kids — Hayden, Anna and Lilly — roughhousing when they were younger. Even though they were only playing with each other, we knew that if the giggling was allowed to continue, eventually skin would be pinched, hair would get pulled or heads would be bonked. Crying and yelling would ensue, usually accompanied by slapping, kicking and biting.

This escalation forces parents to get up from the comfort of their lounge furniture to intervene, which is annoying, especially when a good show is on TV. Better to launch a preemptive strike, and stop the sibling interaction while it’s still in the giggling phase by yelling from the recliner.

As a child, I never understood how siblings can be the best of friends and the worst of enemies. In high school, I watched my best friend, Patti, and her older sister, Barb, viciously beat each other with hangers and thought they hated each other’s guts. Now, with girls of my own, I understand that the violent hanger beating was all part of sisterly love.

The age gap between my brother, Tray, and me was too wide for us to be regular playmates. Essentially, my very existence annoyed him, so he generally skipped the giggling phase of roughhousing.

When bored or agitated, Tray transformed into a predator, and I was his prey. He would launch sneak attacks like Cato in the Pink Panther movies, jumping out from dark corners to place me in headlock and chokeholds. After receiving a book on judo one Christmas, I often found myself being flipped over his knee on my way to my bedroom. At restaurants, Tray’s preferred method of attack was spitballs fired through drinking straws, and at church, he would pinch the sensitive area above my knee with his thumb and forefinger if he hadn’t already decimated me at church bulletin tick-tack-toe.

I would cry or whine, and my parents would ground Tray for a period of time commensurate with the volume of my complaint, which only served to fuel Tray’s motivation to torment me. This pattern went on for years.

I recall one occasion, however, when I got the upper hand. I was stretched out on my parents’ bed after school, with my head propped on one palm, while my other hand slowly smoothed the day’s knots out of my hair with a pink plastic hairbrush.

As I gazed half-awake at reruns of “My Three Sons,” I had no idea that Tray had crawled commando-style into the room on his stomach and was crouched silently on the floor. Just as Uncle Charlie was about to give dating advice to Chip, Tray popped up between my face and the television and blurted, “BOO!”

Stunned, animal instinct took over. I whipped the pink plastic hairbrush in the direction of Tray’s face. He yelped as his hands flew to his nose. He saw blood.

Tray glared at me with utter vengeance. I scrambled into a defensive posture as he leaped onto the bed. Kneeling over me, he raised one hand into the air in a tight fist, with the middle knuckle protruding slightly for maximum point of impact pain.

WHAM! His knuckle hit the center of my thigh.

I walked with a slight limp for the next couple of weeks, but it was worth it, knowing I had finally given my big brother a dose of his own medicine.

Sibling rivalry, brotherly love or aggravated assault — whatever you call it, roughhousing is a normal part of being brothers and sisters. As long as parents don’t encourage mortal combat by supplying their children with books on judo or hard plastic hairbrushes, we can all sit back and relax in our lounge furniture, secure in the knowledge that what doesn’t kill them will only make them stronger.

Read more of Lisa Smith Molinari’s columns at:


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