The magic red rock

Sep 28, 2007 at 9:29 p.m. ET

The boys were getting on my nerves the other day with their bickering. If the nine-year old wasn't teasing, then the three-year old was giving it back as good as he got. Suddenly, I blurted out something that my grandmother would have said.

"I have a special job for you," I said to the three-year old. "Go out in the backyard and find me a red rock."

Immediately, he brightened, abandoned the warrior stance he'd taken with his brother and happily skipped out the back door in search of a red rock.

"What do you need a red rock for?" the nine-year old asked, with just a hint of suspicion. I was sure he would see right through my feeble plan and spoil it. So I hedged.

"Well, I'd really like a red rock for my collection..." (I don't have one -- yet.)

"Can I help find one?" he asked, suddenly filled with enthusiasm and not the least bit wise to my intentions. Out he went to help his brother find the elusive and rare red rock.

They brought me orange rocks, yellow rocks, speckled rocks and one little stone with red rust on it, but still the special red rock that Momma wanted could not be found. Eagerly, they worked together, searched as a team and ran back and forth from one find to another, reporting their progress with each new discovery.

"Is this a red rock?" the three-year old asked, when he presented another imposter.

"No, I'm afraid not. The red rock is magic, so you have to look very hard for it."

"It is!" the nine-year old chimed in and off they went spinning the tale of the red rock and its special powers until the legend became greater than the rock itself ¦which, by the way, was never found. After a while the boys lost interest and were too busy playing together and having fun to care whether or not they ever found that red rock.

Did I lie? Of course not. That magic red rock turned two bickering, testy children into the best of friends for the rest of the afternoon. Any parent will tell you that that's no easy trick -- it has to be magic. My Grandma was pretty wise.

It's funny how an unexpected simple thing can turn a bad moment around. I was thinking that very thing when my husband walked in the door, tripped over a toy and barely stifled a sharp retort when I told him that I'd had a busy day to excuse the state of the house.

"What were you doing?"

"Looking for this magic red rock..."


"YES. It shuts kids up."

He brightened and asked, enthusiastically, "Can I help look, too?"


Sometimes it works on husbands, too.