It all started innocently enough. The girls were eating toast, I was preparing some oatmeal cereal for Jackson, and I thought I should add some fruit to our breakfast. It was Saturday, why not a special treat for Olivia… I’ll bust out the mandarins.
The peak. The high. She abandoned her toast like yesterday’s old beat up flip flops and dove into that little orange like it was the cutest pair of ballet flats you’d ever seen. But then, faster than you could say “what do you mean parachute pants are coming back,” it was gone.
Nicole, however, was still pecking away at her peanut butter toast. She likes order, and she loves to savour. First her toast must be finished, then her orange carefully peeled (preferably by her mother) and segmented, then eaten one small piece at a time.
Olivia eyed up Nicole’s mandarin pensively. “No, Olivia,” two voices at once, and she looks at us as if she is offended. “Cole’s orange,” she says almost defensively, then her words twist with a hint of melancholy. “You eat it, Cole? You eat your orange? Yours?” Her eyes fill with the forbidden fruit. She moves a chair closer.
Nicole eyes her distrustfully, and looks at me, her hand hovering over her orange. I spoon cereal into Jackson’s eager little mouth. Olivia moves another seat closer and Nicole snatches her orange up and moves it to the other side of her plate, furthest from Olivia. “Cole’s orange,” Olivia tries to reassure her placidly, slipping off the chair and sitting on Nicole’s other side, while Nicole switches her orange back. Olivia looks charming and conversational. Nicole is starting to look panicked at this point, and decides she and her breakfast are safest beside me.
Olivia watches the mandarin orange intently as it finds a home back across the table, then feigns a casual attitude as she follows Nicole. Then she abandons all pretence and stands on Nicole’s chair, leaning over her now-shrieking sister to stare hypnotically at the orange. “Orange… orange… Cole’s orange… orange…” she chants through Nicole’s dramatic shrieks. “Olivia, back off!” I bark, and she looks up at me, startled. “Okay, I back off…” she says remorsefully, to my surprise, and does so, for approximately two-thirds of a second. Then she’s right back on Nicole’s chair, leaning over her to try get a glimpse of the orange that Nicole is now curled up protectively around, still shrieking.
I throw my hands up and give up on feeding Jackson. “Nicole, please go finish breakfast in your room so you can eat in peace. And run.” She happily obliges, Olivia hot on her tail, until the door slams. My wild, intense middle child returns to me, hot fat tears running down her face and her large blue eye eyes full of sorrow.
I stifle a grin, and casually start peeling my own mandarin orange, which until now had apparently gone unnoticed. Immediately those eyes regain their sparkle, and she hopefully says, “Mommy’s orange?” “Yes, Mommy’s orange,” I tell her firmly. She nods, smiling at me, and we both know I’m going to share, but I say it anyways, and she bubbles up, a giggle escaping.
And a few minutes later, Nicole comes out of her room with two orange slices. “I have pieces for you, Olivia, because you’re two years old. I’m the best big sister ever, hey?” Olivia explodes into a million tiny pieces of pure joy, and they’re best friends again.
And I never, ever put mandarins on the breakfast table again.