Clara was the last to arrive in the bedroom for my evening reading session last night. So, her brother was already curled on the bed with only his face visible inside the cocoon of blankets, and Lydia was lying on the floor drawing a woman onto a sequined pillow with her finger. Clara closed the door as she entered and made her way to the bed, and as she stepped over her sister, she purposely planted a foot on the younger girl’s leg and hopped over her, making a loud “Crunch!” noise and then laughing playfully.

Lydia did not appreciate this and crumpled up into a fetal position like a soccer player that had just realized he was fouled. “Clara! Ou-wa-cha!”.

I sighed and put the bookmark back into the book before I had even read a single page.

“Okay, first of all, Lydia, don’t be a wimp, please. You can communicate much more than just ‘ou-wa-cha!’ if you use real words and less drama and people are more likely to understand you. Say something like ‘Please don’t do that.’ or ‘Hey, it upsets me when you step on me.’

She rolled on her back and let her tongue fall from her mouth as if she were a squished bug, but I could tell, it was a squished but that was listening.

So, I turned to Clara and shook my head sadly. “But you, Clara, please, don’t enjoy this. I don’t want to see you be the bully older sibling that gets some sort of joy out of pushing younger people around, even if it is jokingly. I need you to be a protector, not a dictator.”

She sat on the edge of the bed and nodded back at me, trying to conceal a smirk that was trying to force its way out of her mouth. “Yeah, okay,” she said finally, “BUT,” she waved a hand in the air, possibly in an attempt at misdirection to make me break eye contact. “I don’t pick on people, really.”

This resulted in a chorus of groans from both the squished bug on the floor and the coiled up caterpillar on the bed.

“Yes you do though!” Gideon’s smushed face said. “You do pick on us! You maybe aren’t mean, but you do.”

Clara was taken aback. A hand may have even flown up to her chest in shock, “No! When?”

The boy closed his eyes and exhaled loudly. “You do. When… when… Okay, when you hold the guinea pigs and you get really happy and excited and you get so excited and SO happy that you sit on us. You sit on our heads!”

Lydia sat up abruptly and nodded in vigorous agreement.

I looked at Clara. She didn’t even protest the accusation. She just laughed and stammered out a “Well… okay… but…”

“No no no. What in the world are you talking about?” I said to the room, addressing anyone that could possibly give me a valid explanation.

“She holds the guinea pigs.” said the boy in the blanket. “And then she goes ‘Oh! Oh! I’m so happy I have to sit on someone!’ and then- She SITS on our HEADS!”

I blinked at his sisters but they both either nodded in agreement or shrugged as if to say “Eh, what are you going to do… That’s just how life is sometimes. How can you deny the nature of man?”

“Okay, can we not do that?” I asked. “Can I say it’s a family rule that no one is allowed to sit on any of my children’s heads?”

Clara looked uncertain. “It’s not easy.”

“How? How is it not easy to resist being so happy that you sit on someone’s head? Seriously, how? That’s nonsense. That’s literal insanity. Does holding guinea pigs overwhelm you with so much motherly joy that you suddenly feel the need to sit on an egg, like a mother hen? Do you somehow feel like maybe if you sit on your brother’s head long enough a little baby chicken will hatch out of it?”

She laughed, but then seemed to think about this as an actual possibility. This only communicated to me that she had no better explanation for her strange broken psychology and was open to any and all theories. I refused to offer her any more ideas. This was a journey she was going to have to walk down on her own. I simply leaned forward to hold my head in my hands and said softly but clearly. “Clara, please, just don’t be a bully to your brother and sister. Even a motherly bully. Okay?”

And she agreed. It was a small victory, but I accepted it. I opened the book and began reading.

Several minutes later I placed a bookmark in front of the next chapter and set the book aside. Somewhere, 8 or 9 pages ago, Gideon’s face rotated and was no longer visible through the hole in his blanket burrow. Lydia hopped up and saw that her usual sleeping buddy had already fallen asleep and became noticeably anxious. “Oh no. Clara. Um… Can I maybe sleep in your bed, with you tonight? Gideon is already asleep…”

Clara sat up a bit straighter and considered this for a few seconds. I watched intently knowing that having a bed to herself was a really big deal. I waited to see what words she came up with to tell her sister ‘No’. I was surprised to instead hear her say, “Yes. You can come and lay down in my bed with me, Lydia.” with a knowing smile and a nod to me.

“Thank you, Clara.” Lydia hugged her big sister with genuine affection and I smiled as the two of them left the room arm in arm. Maybe we had made some progress this evening?

But, as they reached the hallway I saw Clara lean over her little sister and casually add, “But you can only stay until the covers are warm. Then you have to go back to your own bed.”

I quickly sat back down in the chair I had just stood up from and mumbled a desperate prayer for fatherly strength.