NYC, M&Ms, a Kindness Cleat, and a Geminate

I remember fighting with my sister. I don’t remember what we fought about; it was probably inconsequential, like who got which placemat for dinner. But I’m pretty sure we drove my parents crazy. Now my kids fight, and it drives me crazy. In a typical day, this is what I hear hurled at me from various parts of the house:

Mom! She’s smirking at me!

Mom! She’s burping again!

Mom! She’s looking at me!

Mom! She smells and she’s sitting next to me and she said shut up!

Mom! She got more screen time than I did – IT’S NOT FAAAIIIIRRRRR!

 Oh, the meanness… the unfairness… nothing I do seems to help.


Last week, we met up with my long-lost friend Ciara and her family in NYC. We had one day together and we spent it well. As we walked through Times Square, our kids saw M&M’s World. They were so excited. “Mom,” they pleaded, “we have to go in! You love M&Ms!” It’s true, I do love M&Ms. We had to go in.

The kids spent what felt like an hour searching for the perfect treasure to buy. I said no to a dozen items covered in the M&M logo (coffee mugs, beach towels, plates, raincoats, slippers, candy dispensers, bathrobes…you name it) before they came across an M&M cleat – a clear, plastic cleat filled with M&Ms. I have no idea who thought of making a plastic shoe and filling it with candy; it is a perfect example of what I refer to as useless plastic crap. But it exists, and my kids saw it and wanted it.

Ciara generously offered to buy one for her kids and one for my kids – a souvenir to remember our whirlwind reunion in the city.

My soccer-fanatic kids were ecstatic. A cleat filled with candy! As Ciara offered each of my kids a few M&Ms from her family’s cleat, I had a flash back to the ancient babysitter my sister and I had when we were kids, Mrs. Binfield. She was a Norwegian woman in her 80s (90s?) who served dinner at 4:30pm, let us watch The Love Boat and TJ Hooker while she knit sweaters (always counting stitches in Norwegian), and unfailingly paused her knitting at some point during the evening to carefully dole out six M&Ms to each of us from a little container she kept in her knitting bag… if we behaved well.

The anticipation of those six M&Ms made up for the otherwise dull hours we endured with Mrs. Binfield until our TV shows began.

And here I found myself with a small container filled with M&Ms, it’s purpose obvious. A Kindness Cleat. I would dole out a few M&Ms each time I observed an act of kindness from one sister to another. I explained the concept to my kids when we got home from our trip and carefully placed the Kindness Cleat on a shelf in the kitchen. I was sure I had finally found a solution to the constant bickering and meanness. I would reward kindness until it became our new norm.


Unfortunately, it hasn’t been effective. It turns out an act of kindness towards a sister is not worth a few M&Ms. The cleat sits untouched on the shelf, still full of M&Ms. 

I’ll give it another week… then I’m turning it into the Meanness Cleat, and will help myself to a few M&Ms every time my kids fight.

*Linguistic side note – I love the word meanness. It has a long consonant, called a geminate (from the Latin root Gemini, which means twinning). English doesn’t have consonant geminates the way some other languages do. For example, Italian has a short and long [l], as in pala (shovel) and palla (ball). In this case, consonant length is a distinctive feature that can distinguish meaning between two otherwise identical words. But in English, consonant geminates only occur across word or morpheme boundaries. In other words, it only occurs when the same sound occurs twice in a row as part of separate words or syllables, such as in ‘calm man’ or ‘misspell’, and even then, lengthening or not lengthening the consonant typically doesn’t change the meaning. Only in a few cases would gemination change the meaning… as in unaimed vs. unnamed.  So yeah, ‘meanness’ is a cool word with a rare-to-English consonant feature. Lucky for me, pointing out my kids’ meanness gives me lots of opportunities to use a geminate.