Even numbers of children, I've learned, are easier than odd. So, four kids is simpler than three, in a bizarre way. With three boys, all close in age and emotional maturity (even though my oldest, Kyle, is three years older than his munchkin brothers), the competition is fierce and constant.
And the allegiances shift like, well, the wind.
Lately, it's Kyle and Seth against Jesse.
So, this morning, over breakfast (eggy bread for Jesse, buttered bagel for Seth and cereal for Kyle), Seth said, "Mommy, Jesse called me the F word."
I gasp in feigned horror. Kyle leans into me. "He did, Mom."
"No!" Jesse howls. "They're just trying to get me in trouble."
"They wouldn't do that," I say. "Right, Kyle?" This is accompanied by the piercing, laser-beam, no-nonsense Mom look.
"He did say it, Mom," Kyle insists.
When I demand context, Kyle continues, "I can't say the context. It's too inappropriate (one of the favorite words in my house)."
A moment later, as I'm threatening Jesse with a penalty, Seth giggles: "You fell for my trick!"
He and Kyle fall on each other, howling their victory laugh.
Jesse scowls into his eggy bread. "I told you they were just trying to get me in trouble," he mutter.
I pat his still-tiny hand. "You'll get your chance to get even," I promise.