What I Learned from Sibling Roughhousing

With Thanksgiving safely behind us, I reflected this weekend on what I enjoy most about spending time with my siblings (two brothers and a sister). Things have changed since we’ve grown older and more frail, and chief among those changes is that we no longer “roughhouse.” I define roughhousing as “beating the crap out of your sibling in the presence of parental supervision.” If parents (or other authority figures) are not nearby, then roughhousing may degenerate into a full-on beatdown. Of you. You wussy.

Roughhousing is not exclusive to humans in the animal kingdom. Spend any time watching PBS, and you’re bound to see bear cubs, lion cubs, or some other deceptively cute man-eating predator young wrestling and biting each other. The animal will eventually use the same skills to survive in the wild and wrestle its prey to the ground.

What of humans, then? Why do their young, awkward and stinky, engage in roughhousing behavior when our lineage is clearly meant for the foraging and trapping arts? I’m not sure, but I can say that I learned a great deal from roughhousing, and the lessons persist today.

Understand the spectrum of annoyance

All authority figures (and especially parents) rule from a spectrum of annoyance. You can bend and even break the rules within parental proximity as long as you know how much they’re willing to accept interruption.

For example, if you sit on your brother’s chest, he can still fight back and not raise too much attention. If you sit on your brother’s head, he’s likely to be all, “Ahh! You broke my nose!” and then you’ve gone too far in the spectrum of annoyance and the parents become involved.

Also, you broke your brother’s nose… but you wouldn’t have had to do that if he wasn’t being such a turd face.

Fear the short

When faced with hand-to-hand combat, do not equate slight height and weight with slight fighting prowess. Short people are a pain to fight. They are quick, and have a low center of gravity allowing them to recover much more quickly from takedowns. Short people are also bizarrely difficult to tackle. You will exhaust yourself in the effort, and then they will do terrible things to your arm behind your back. Try as you might to reach them with a free arm, you can’t. Because they are short.

These lessons are invaluable, whether you are a person of average or diminutive stature. If you’re tall, the message is extra clear: do not scrap with a short person. If you must, employ a large couch cushion and use a side-to-side sweeping motion. They hate that.

Learn your opponent’s weaknesses

By this, I mean “learn your opponent’s tickle spots.”

I’m not talking about the “tee hee, hey, stop it!” kind of tickling. I’m talking war. This is the real, painful, jab-your-fingers-into-their-sides-until-they-give-up kind of tickling. A perfectly executed attack will leave your opponent seizing and heaving on the floor, so you’d better be ready for bucking and kicking. These spasms will also knock over nearby furniture, plants, or adults, bringing you to the dangerous end of the annoyance spectrum in a hurry.

Use tickling wisely. It’s a truly infuriating method of last resort, but completely justified against any besmirching of your football throwing style.

Roughhousing is always an option

Finally, though my siblings and I are all past the age of 40 and prefer to settle our differences in conversation, I’ve learned that it is still acceptable to tackle your family members at gatherings if they have insulted your haircut. What’s better is that the children present all take this as a sign to pile on and, in turn, learn valuable lessons that will last a lifetime.

3 responses

  1. I think this is my favorite post ever. I will have to go back and verify–but this one had me wiping away the tears!!!

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