We got kittens last week – they’re littermates, though he’s a creamsicle tabby and she’s solid black. We named them Bingley and Knightley, and I don’t know how to be productive around such distracting cuteness. Logistical details interfere, though, too…just little things, like in the morning when I’m bent over the sink with my eyes closed to wash my face, suddenly 20 tiny needles impale my left leg.

Then they start climbing.

I grab the towel and wipe my face with one hand while blindly grasping for the ascending kitten with the other hand. Four paws, five claws each, and it takes a while to get them all free…and before I’m done, Kapow! Twenty more needles on the other leg.

You can hear the conspiracy: I’ll get this leg, you get that leg; we’ll take her down together! Go! There’s a song for this kind of teamwork.

[insert “Everything is Awesome!” from The Lego Movie]

teamwork: from sibling rivalry to men and women of greatness (Copperlight Wood)

By the time I get one kitten detached and on the ground, the other one has jumped back on me and is scaling. We go several rounds of this before I escape, gasping for air, and shut the little sinners in the bathroom behind me. And I still haven’t brushed my teeth.

It’s highly virtuous to say we’ll be good, but we can’t do it all at once, and it takes a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether, before some of us even get our feet set in the right way.

– Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

But then they sleep and snuggle…

teamwork: from sibling rivalry to men and women of greatness (Copperlight Wood)



and it’s just bliss. For most of us, at least.

Gus-Gus and the kittens, and then there were three…H-I-S-S-I-N-G.

Like many older siblings, he’s not sure what to make of them, or how he can defend himself against them without getting in trouble. Like many younger siblings, they are fearless, immune to intimidation, and have no sense of personal space. Gus can growl, spit, bully, and use all sorts of feline profanity and they will still approach him with wide-eyed adoration.

Hey, wanna be friends? Do you wanna play? Do you wanna build a snowman? No? Okay, maybe later! I’m going to go poop in your litterbox now, yay!!

[Everything is awesome!!]

teamwork: from sibling rivalry to men and women of greatness (Copperlight Wood)



Among kids, among kittens – this week, we’ve had enough rivalry, tattling, criticism, arguing, assumptions, scratching, snatching, hissing and spitting to make any human start using profanity, feline or otherwise.

The big ones pick on the little ones. The little ones provoke and pester the big ones. The parents wonder where we missed the mark.

A new school year is looming and we’re more aware than ever of leveraging great books and curriculum to model great behavior, and eliminating twaddle that carries any hint of “boys will be boys” or “they’re just kids” type of brain-numbing, sin-condoning messages. I need it for myself, too.

We need joy, kindness, beauty. Gritty reality needs to be balanced with truth in love.


Mind your own business. Get the plank out of your own eye. Stop picking on those who are littler than you just because you think you can. They’ve been like kittens climbing to the top of the scratching post, pulling someone down just so they can claw their way to the top.

For us, this means Ramona and Beezus and their manipulative bickering are out, and books that show kind relationships between siblings and realistic consequences are increasing – those by Edith Nesbit, Louisa May Alcott, and, well, most classics. They were written in an era that expected children to be both respectful and responsible by society at large, instead of pooh-poohed by a culture that winks at minor infractions and then gasps at teen activity that make headlines.

What is a great man who has made his mark upon history? Every time, if we think far enough, he is a man who has looked through the confusion of the moment and has seen the moral issue involved; he is a man who has refused to have his sense of justice distorted; he has listened to his conscience until conscience becomes a trumpet call to like-minded men, so that they gather about him and together, with mutual purpose and mutual aid, they make a new period in history.…

– Jane Addams, 1903 address in honor of George Washington

We’re looking for characters – in fiction and reality – that discern truth from half-truth, and make the right choice without compromise. And when they don’t – because we all miss the mark sometimes – they refuse to justify or distort their sense of justice.

Some it is genuinely innocent. Kids and kittens are shamelessly clumsy, still learning about physics and gravity, how to maneuver, negotiate, climb. They tumble off furniture, trip over each other, and forget to retract their claws sometimes. They wrestle for fun, just like the kittens – Bingley is bigger, but Knightley is faster – and usually no one gets hurt.

But they do need to learn about courtesy, safety, and obedience. It is our fervent hope that our little multi-colored littermates – not the tabby and coal-black kittens, but the Mexican-Irish-Bulgarian Americans – will gather together with mutual purpose, and grow to be men and women of greatness.

The kittens, though? They eat paper. They destroy lampshades. They climb curtains, and pant legs. And bare legs.

They hit the caps lock button on your keyboard while you’re typing on autopilot.


It’s Bingley’s favorite button, and he hits the mark every time.



teamwork — 14 Comments

  1. When my daughters were young (in their 20’s now) they loved the C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien books most of all and when one read ‘The Golden Compass’ there was a lot of discussion. I love, love the kittens and your analogy!

  2. Adore this post. Love it from kittens to John Adams. God bless Charlotte Mason for knowing the way to a child’s future was through moral and living literature. I love your vision and your amazing way with words. So glad I found this post.

  3. I love the innocense of the classics. If only it were possible to only fill the soul stores of our young-uns with only those sentiments and protect them from what is presented to today’s children as “language arts”. Where is that place? My answer: in the “homeschooling” home.
    Am I pining for the impossible?

    • It’s amazing to see what children used to read 100 or 200 years ago versus what they read today. Children at 9 used to understand Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island and by 10 or 11 they were reading Dickens, and by 15 they were devouring Scott and Austen. The had the mature characters to match, as well. We are working toward that…thanks for reading, Rita. <3

  4. I have to admit the kittens climbing narrative totally had me chuckling and feeling those tiny sabers on my own legs as well. I remember those kitten shenanigans all too well! Man, did our cats destroy things! I love the parallel between the kids and the kittens. At least the kids don’t eat paper and destroy lamp shades or climb up your pant legs…at least not on a daily basis. ;)

    • No kidding! I just pulled Bingley out of a potted plant, and Knightley out of a packing box – she was trying to snap the “pops” just like our kids do. ;)

    • Thanks so much, AnnMarie! There are so many similarities…I’m so thankful that my big kids no longer climb up my pantlegs, though. ;)