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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 1, 2002

Friendly competition goes too far sometimes

By Ka'ohua Lucas

"No, I got it!" my eldest son yelled, hip chucking his younger brother into a rack of clothing as he raced toward the elevator.

"It's my turn!" screamed the 8-year-old, recovering from the hit. "You did it last time!"

As both boys bolted for the double doors, Macy's patrons shuffled out of the way.

"I got it!" my 12-year-old shouted, triumphantly slamming his meaty paw on the plastic "up" button.

"That's not fair!" the 8-year-old wailed tearfully as he turned to search for me.

I wanted to run and hide. To distance myself from them. I certainly did not want anyone to think that I promote this kind of behavior.

I tried to look engaged, pretending to admire an outfit on a mannequin while casually fingering the cashmere scarf draped around her neck.

"Mom," my youngest whined. "He always gets to be first."

Sibling rivalry between my two boys has been evident ever since the younger one emerged from the womb.

"Why does he always get to see the dentist first?" my eldest son complained when he was 7.

"I really have no control over who gets called first," I explained. "Maybe it's because your brother has a shorter attention span. That's why your dentist wants to work on him first."

"That's not fair," my eldest scowled, thrusting his arms across his chest.

This fierce competition does not limit itself to the pressing of elevator buttons or climbing first into the dentist chair. But I realize early Hawaiians valued competition.

"Competitive games kept under control can almost completely sublimate energies into harmless channels," writes Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui in Nana I Ke Kumu. "Hitting the ball is often a way to prevent hitting a person."

On occasion, my two have taken a crack at each other. But they seem to be consumed with being first.

Who will be first to cut his hair, who will be first in line to buy his movie ticket, who will be the first to use the bathroom, who will reach 21 first in a basketball shootout and my favorite: Who will give the correct answer first?

What is even more compelling is the fact that the competition is not restricted to siblings.

It fascinates their dad.

We can be sitting around the dinner table, and I will ask my youngest, "So what did you learn today in school?"

"We are studying wetland marshes in Hawai'i," he'll respond.

"Wow, that's great!" I say. "What kinds of native animals live in the wetland areas?"

Before he can even formulate an answer, Dad will produce one, using his best Walter Cronkite impersonation.

"The ae'o is an endangered waterfowl found in Hawaiian wetland habitats. They were most commonly found in kalo (taro) fields cultivated by ancient Hawaiians."

Friendly competition is healthy. But in our family it is often taken to an extreme.

Now if I can just figure out a way to challenge them to seeing who can be first to push the "start" button on the washing machine.

Ka'ohua Lucas is a mother of three and holds a master's degree in education curriculum and instruction. Reach her at: Family Matters, 'Ohana Section, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; or by e-mail at ohana@honoluluadvertiser.com; or fax 525-8055.