Tuesday, July 21, 2009


It was one of THOSE car trips. Living in a rural area, we often find ourselves on the road for an hour or more doing errands and getting what we need. On this day, our two sons just couldn’t agree.

“Let’s play with the sea turtle,” Aidan said. He pulled up a stuffed sea turtle. At four, he pretty much expects to be in charge of the world.

“It’s not a sea turtle,” Zachary said, speaking with the wisdom of a ten-year-old. “It’s a different kind of turtle.”

“It is a sea turtle!” Aidan insisted, his voice veering toward whining.

“Well, no, it’s not,” Zachary said. The argument went back and forth a few more times, voices getting louder. Finally, I decided to intervene.

But it’s summer, and I was feeling inventive. Instead of just saying, "Stop arguing," I decided to make this an instructive experience. What better way to teach a lesson than with a story? It went like this:

“Once there were two knights in a kingdom. A terrible dragon was causing lots of trouble and eating people in the kingdom, so the two knights went to investigate. “

Both boys were quiet as they listened to the story. Dragons and knights are big hits in my household.

“When they arrived at the dragon’s cave, they started to argue. The first knight said, ‘We should sneak into the dragon’s lair and attack him from behind!’

The second knight said, ‘That is a stupid idea! We should sneak up to the top of the cave, dig into the roof, and collapse the top of the cave on the dragon.’

Well, the two knights kept arguing and arguing and arguing. They couldn’t agree. While they were making so much noise, the dragon came out of the cave, looked at the two of them, and ate them in one bite.”

There was a moment of stunned silence at the end—my stories do not usually end so abruptly. (My most successful story for Aidan is The Little Tractor Who Wants a Plow.)

I waited for the story to sink in, and then said, so pleased with myself, “Now, what lesson can you learn from this story?”

The silence continued for another moment. Then Zachary said wickedly, “Well, I think that the second knight had the best idea.”

Aidan fell right into his trap. “No! The first knight was better.”

“The second knight had the much better idea. Collapse the roof of the cave, and they’d get the dragon.”

“That’s a bad idea,” Aidan pronounced. “The first knight. Zachary! Say it.”

“I’m not going to say it. I think that going into the cave wouldn’t work. It’s a bad idea.”

“Zachary! Say it!"

"I'm not going to."

I sighed as my idea went up in smoke. My husband looked over. “You can’t eat them both up,” he reminded me.

And I was feeling rather dragonish. Well, I thought, as I listened to them arguing the relative merits of both knights, at least now they were arguing about something different. Then I listened a bit more carefully.

“And this IS a sea turtle. Zachary, say it! Say it!”

“But Aidan, it’s not a sea turtle. And the first knight had a better idea.”

I decided to intervene again, but in a slightly different way. "If you stop arguing RIGHT NOW, we'll stop at Fuller Lake and look for creatures in the creek."

That did it. No story, no theme, no great plot, just the promise of feet in a creek and the hunt for creatures.

"Maybe we'll find some lobsters!" Aidan said.

"Well, Aidan, they're not really lobsters in the creek," Zachary said. "What we find in creeks are really called--"

"Zachary!" my husband and I said at once.

"You know, Aidan, you can call them lobsters if you want," he said, magnanimously, bringing our car trip to a somewhat peaceful end.


  1. Unless the second knight was capable of collapsing the roof on his own, or the first knight had the ability to sneak up from behind and slay the dragon by himself, each knight would have no choice but to argue with the other in an attempt to procure the other's assistance, because 1) acting solo would be futile and 2) this is the sort of problem one only gets one crack at -- the dragon probably wouldn't let the knights have a second chance if he discovered they were sneaking up on him. I think the moral of the story is that you need to have a clear command structure for such ventures.

  2. That's why you grew up to be a lawyer, and I grew up to be a teacher. Remember when you used to cross-examine me?