M was playing with our baoding balls, a pair of those Chinese meditation balls that we keep nestled in a fancy box. They're special things by virtue of that box, of being shiny, and of being a scarce resource. I've written that exact description here on the blog before. Every day someone plays with them and almost as often we have some sort of conflict regarding them.
M was playing a game with herself, removing the balls from the box, shaking them in two fists to hear their chimes, then returning them to the box, closing the lid, and fixing the latch, a process she was recreating in a pattern.
Two-year-old E spied the balls in her hands and took them by force. M has an older brother and normally would have put up a fight, but E was too quick for her. Instead she shrieked her objection. As a cooperative, we have a lot of adults in the room everyday, but on this day we were hosting several grandparents in addition to our usual cohort of parent-teachers, most of whom seemed to be within a few feet of the incident.
As E made his escape, one parent-teacher went to M. I circled around to E who was joyfully shaking the balls he held in his fists. I bent down to his level and said, "You took those balls from M."
He looked at M, who was staring at him, not crying, but showing emotion in her wrinkled brow and the downturned corners of her mouth. I said, "M's face looks sad about that."
E shook the balls again, albeit less enthusiastically than before. She reached toward him with both hands. I said, "I think she's telling you she wants them back." Then I stood up and took a step back. I'd said what I could say, having stuck with the facts as I saw them. Now it was up to him.
E stood looking at M for several seconds, then walked over and handed them to M. I said, "E gave the balls back to M."
A grandmother said to me, "You could just see the little angel on one shoulder and the little devil on the other fighting it out."
I replied, "I've found that the angel usually wins as long as we don't try to tell people what to do."