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Fabulous fun family feuding at Christmas

Like so many homes, our Christmas holiday is dominated by fighting. Personally, I've tried to establish a peaceful home. I play soothing music and light candles. I serve non-caffeinated teas. I set up gentle mediation sessions for arguing sibling...

Like so many homes, our Christmas holiday is dominated by fighting.

Personally, I've tried to establish a peaceful home. I play soothing music and light candles. I serve non-caffeinated teas. I set up gentle mediation sessions for arguing siblings.

However, Father Christmas and I come from different planets. In fact, he believes inviting a little conflict into the home can exercise negotiation muscles until they are buff.

What I've learned as I have aged is that often the thing that you need the most is disguised as the thing you least want to do.

Enter the Christmas of the dart guns.

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One Christmas Eve morning each of us woke up to a dart gun on our bed (special purchase by Daddy, um, I mean Father Christmas). These guns shoot foam darts with sticky ends. Each child got a six shooter, and Ernie and I each received a ten shooter. We have five children. This is the math section of the column where you can see we were outgunned.

When our three sons woke on that dark morning they each found the fulfillment of their life-long dream cradled on his pillow -- a new dart gun with fresh suction darts.

They went wild.

In that never totally relaxed state of parental sleep I could hear "All right! Look at this! Did you get a gun too?" and the sound of mouth-simulated gunfire which our sons mastered before they said "mama."

We had a pre-breakfast shootout. We yelled, ambushed and chased each other from living room to kitchen and back again. We had a pre-lunch shootout. We had a post-nap shootout.

Throughout each game everyone was squealing with delight and hollering battle cries as they ran down hallways, hid behind counters and beds and dived up or down stairways.

There is something comfortable about family warfare. We know that at the end of the day, no matter how ruthless the battle has been, we're still going to have to work at loving and living together. This somehow tempers the hostilities.

We agreed beforehand to no head shots. But in the heat of the moment there were more than a few darts stuck to cheeks and foreheads. It was accidental, of course, but oh, how satisfying!

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As soon as one person was out of ammunition, Ellen, our nine-year-old would yell, "Stop! Reload!"

Then everybody stopped shooting and began looking for spent darts. (Father Christmas wrote initials on everybody's darts ahead of time). With a practiced fluid movement our family would move from all-out competition to all-out cooperation.

"I've got two of Will's darts and one of Dan's. ..."Mom, you've got two darts here under the couch. ... Annie, how did you get a dart in the lazy Susan?"

Happily kids were moving over and under furniture and into odd corners, gathering sticky darts. Then darts were passed out again. Everybody reloaded.

Back to the Aggression Zone!

When the kids went to bed that night I was physically tired. Emotionally I was feeling strong, like we'd had a good day of connections.

I went to bed late stuffing stockings and tucked myself in for a long winter's nap. But that turned out to be the nightmare before Christmas. During the night, one child got sick and threw up all his cocktail weenies. Another child had an eardrum rupture.

To be honest that Bible verse about "no rest for the wicked" flashed through my mind.

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I was up every two hours with one boy or another. By the time Christmas morning dawned, I was a wreck. I had no fantasies of smiling warmly at my loving children while they opened packages.

I wanted some coffee, some quiet and a housekeeper.

I guess it was Will's passion for a good gun fight that pulled him through his ruptured ear drum because after the sun was up he suggested a family dart gun fight. I said I'd rather just sit in a chair.

Hadn't I given enough? I just didn't have a fight in me. I had nothing in me.

"You'll have more energy after a good game," Ernie encouraged me.

The kids were begging, it was Christmas. ... Oh, OK.

We ran, we shouted, we hid, we jumped out and shot at small children.

Know what? I did have more energy afterward.

That year dart guns were not on my Christmas list, but this year they are.

S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota. She can be reached at selivingston68@yahoo.com .

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