"Mom? Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure," I rinsed out a juice glass and placed it in the drainboard. "What's up?" I asked drying my hands on a towel.
"I was wondering if I could get a raise in my allowance."
Brian's head shot up at this, and he immediately jumped in. "I want more allowance too!"
Amber glared at him. "I asked first."
"So what?" Brian was mad. "It's not fair for you to get a raise if I don't."
"It is too!"
"I'm older than you!"
"It doesn't matter!"
"Whoa, you two. Hey . . . hey . . . HEY!!!!!" I shouted over them. Both children looked at me. "I don't want to hear any fighting, understand?"
"You can't just let her---"
"ENOUGH!" I yelled. "Nobody is going to convince me of anything by screaming and pitching a fit. Understand?"
Both children nodded, still glaring across the table at each other.
"Good. Now then. Let's calm down for a minute and let me figure out a way to settle this." I took a deep breath and looked from one to the other of them. "You both want a raise in your allowance, and yet I don't see any reason I should help either one of you."
Two voices immediately rose up in protest. I held up my hand.
"Let me finish. You can't just walk up to somebody and start making demands like that . First you need to explain why you feel you deserve a raise. What have you done to earn it? What other responsibilities are you willing to take on in exchange for it? Stuff like that. It is your job to convince me that what you're asking is fair and reasonable."
I thought for a minute. "Here's what I think we should do. Let's turn the living room into a courtroom. Each of you will be a lawyer, and I will be the judge. It's up to you to prepare your cases and present them to me so that I can make a fair ruling."
The kids were completely intrigued. I could see their minds going a mile a minute as they tried to figure out what they would say.
"There is just one condition," I continued. "In order for this to work, you both have to agree to accept the final decision of the judge. No arguing or fighting or pitching tantrums. Agreed?"
Amber nodded. "Agreed."
Brian hesitated then added, "Me too."
"Okay then. Go prepare your cases. Court will convene in--" I looked up at the clock--"half an hour."
Both children ran from the room, nearly knocking my friend Marty off his feet as he came in the back door. "What was THAT about?" he asked puzzled.
I smiled. "Have you ever thought about being a bailiff?. . . "
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. The Wright family court is now in session. The honorable Judge Juno is presiding."
Solemnly I entered the room, wearing a sheet the kids had cloaked over my shoulders, and took a seat on the couch. Someone had brought in my wooden meat tenderizer mallet from the kitchen, and I whacked it three times on the coffee table. "Thank you Bailiff Marty. You may all be seated," I said grandly.
The two lawyers sat on the floor behind low stools they were using as makeshift tables.
The bailiff stepped forward and instructed counsel to raise their right hands. "Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?"
"I do" Amber said earnestly.
"Me too. I mean--I do," Brian said hastily.
"Who will go first?" I asked.
Amber jumped to her feet. "I will your Honor."
"Your name please?"
"Amber Wright," she replied, pulling a stack of papers from a briefcase beneath her table. "And if it please the court, I have prepared a statement that I would like to read."
Brian looked in dismay at the impressive sheaf of papers then to his own empty table. He raised his hand. "Your Honor, can I be excused for a minute?"
Amber turned to him exasperated. "I'm TRYING to read a statement here."
"But I forgot to bring a pencil and paper."
"You should have thought of that before," she told him unsympathetically.
"PLEEEEEEASE your Honor?" Brian begged me, his little face close to tears.
Amber handed him a piece of paper and a pencil. "Here, take this. Jeez. NOW can I continue?"
Her brother nodded.
"Thank you. Now, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I have a statement I would like to read." Amber cleared her throat. "Your Honor, for the past year both the defendant--my brother over here--and I have received a five dollar a week allowance. In exchange for that allowance we help out around the house and make sure our rooms are picked up. However I feel that because I am older than the defendant, and frequently have to help BABYSIT him, that I deserve a raise."
"That's not fair!" Brian burst out. "You can't--"
"MR. WRIGHT!" I said firmly. "There will be no outbursts in this courtroom. Do you understand? You will have the opportunity to say what you want to say when you give your own statement in just a moment. Are we clear on this?"
He nodded miserably.
"Good." I nodded at the plaintiff. "Please continue."
"As I was saying, since I am the oldest I have more responsibilities. For example, I walk to the store to pick up grocery stuff or to the library to bring back books and videos. And a lot of times now I end up babysitting the defendant when you're not home, which isn't always easy because he's a pain in the butt and won't behave." She looked pointedly at her brother, who was quietly wiggling in frustration.
"Those are all good arguments," I told the plaintiff. "I do have a couple of questions for you though."
"Yes, your Honor?"
"You mentioned that part of your responsibilities included cleaning your room and helping around the house. Is that correct?"
The plaintiff knew where this was going. "Yes your Honor."
"Would you agree that I have had to ask you a number of times this past week to pick up your room or put away messes that you left out?"
Brian grinned triumphantly.
"Yes your Honor," Amber admitted reluctantly. "But I promise to try harder to work on those things if you give me a raise."
Her brother slumped against the table, head in his hands.
"I see. One more thing. Although you pointed out many of your responsibilities, you haven't mentioned why you need more allowance money. Have your expenses changed?"
The plaintiff nodded. "Sometimes I need more money when I am out with friends and everyone is getting an ice cream or something. And I know you think it's silly to spend money on designer clothes, but maybe I can make up the difference with my allowance if I really want something."
"Those are all good points, and I will take them into consideration."
"Thank you your Honor."Amber took her seat again.
"Now then does the defendant have a statement?"
Brian stood miserably. "It's not fair," he said close to tears. The bailiff walked over and whispered in his ear. The defendant brightened hopefully. "I'd like to consult with my colleague, your Honor."
I looked at the clock. "I'll call a five minute recess then."
Bailiff Marty and the defendant scooted out the door. There was much urgent whispering and giggling from the hallway as the two planned their case.
Five minutes later court was again in session.
Brian made his way up to the front of the courtroom. "My name is Brian Wright, your Honor. And I would like to ask you for more allowance. Just because I'm younger than Amber doesn't mean I don't work as hard as she does. I don't think it's fair to give more money to somebody just because they're older. If I had more allowance I could pay for my ninja turtles by myself and not have to ask you for money. And I could buy ice cream. And I would even buy you an ice cream too Momma--I mean your Honor."
He paused and looked at Bailiff Marty who nodded encouragingly. "If you will give me more allowance I can help you by taking out the trash or doing other jobs for you. I will even" he swallowed hard, "try to behave better when Amber babysits me." The defendant looked up at me with a little tear in the corner of his eye and his voice shook. "Just 'cause I'm little doesn't mean I can't do stuff. Please give me more allowance. PLEASE?"
"Thank you for your statement, Mr. Wright. Now please go sit down next to your colleague."
Brian ran back to the table and sat in his colleague's lap.
"You both have presented very good cases and given me a lot to think about. I'm going to take a quick, ten minute recess to deliberate. Then Bailiff Marty will call you back in, and I will tell you my decision. Court is adjourned."
Bailiff Marty led the plaintiff and the defendant out of the room and closed the door behind them. He grinned. "That was impressive!"
"Wasn't it though? And they really did do a pretty good job at explaining their positions. The District Attorney did a school visit with Amber's class last week, and she's totally taken with the idea of practicing law now. She's good, isn't she?" I laughed. "What happened with Brian and you in the hallway?"
"Poor little guy. He was all upset and crying because he thought his sister gave such a good argument he didn't have a chance. That babysitting thing really got to him too. I helped him come up with some ideas on things he could do in order to get more allowance and just basically gave him a little encouragement."
I smiled. "Thanks."
"No problem. So what is the Judge going to decide to do?"
"Oh I have a few ideas," I said mysteriously. "Why don't you go gather up the counselors and tell them I have a verdict for them."
. . . . . . .
"I would like to say first of all that the two of you presented very strong cases. So strong, in fact it was very difficult for me to come to a decision. But I do have a verdict for you." I turned to Amber. "Will the plaintiff please stand?"
"Ms. Wright, you made some excellent points about your need for spending money increasing now that you're older. And the fact that you are depended upon to babysit your brother when necessary is an important consideration. Therefore I am increasing your allowance from $5 to $15 a week."
Amber's face lit up, and she jumped in the air out of sheer happiness. "Thank you, your Honor," she said smiling.
The defendant collapsed, sobbing in Bailiff Marty's arms. I winked at the Bailiff.
"Would the defendant please step forward?"
Sniffling and rubbing his eyes, Brian walked up to the front of the court.
"Mr. Wright, you too presented many very good points in your case. Amber will receive a higher allowance than you because she has more responsibilities and expenses than you do because of her age. However, since you seem so willing to work hard and to improve your behavior with your sister when she is babysitting, I think that you too deserve a reward. I am increasing your allowance from $5 to $10 a week."
Brian looked up, stunned, then gave a wild whoop and threw himself on Marty.
I rapped the mallet three times on the coffee table and smiled.
"Court is now adjourned."