Friday, December 31, 2010
December 31, 2010 ~ Day 22
Secret Night Meetings
If you were to ask my elder son to confide in you about the worst thing that ever happened to him, there definitely days when he would respond without hesitation, "My little brother". Or, as his favorite cartoon character Olivia would say, "My little BOTHER".
Theirs is the classic tale of siblings two years apart. A dramatic story of displacement, hurt, sorrow, hatred and chronic revenge... with moments of genuine comic relief and even (dare I say it) love! thrown in for good measure. The transition from only child to sibling probably wouldn't have been so bad if our second baby had been a girl. (When we announced my third pregnancy, my oldest son, age 3, kissed my belly and said, "Be a girl, baby... PLEASE be a girl!")
He feels no sense of competition when it comes to little girls, as they are so clearly like apples and oranges. "Barbies are for GIRLS," he will come home and announce after school... "Disney Princesses are for GIRLS". My son has a very refined sense of what separates girls and boys - perhaps most obviously and essentially, his treasured 'pee-pee'. I'll never forget the day after preschool (where bathrooms are co-ed) when he came home and asked me in all seriousness, "Mommy, why don't girls have pee-pees? What happened to theirs?"
Anyway, a girl would have been ok... at least so he tells us.
Instead, his successor to the kingdom - the second heir in line for our throne - was another boy. Worse still, a boy that looks almost identical to him. From the time his brother was a year old, people would often stop me at the park or in the elevator as I pushed them in our double stroller to ask if they were twins. Which, given that my older son is over a foot taller and much more muscular than his baby brother, often prompted my snarky inner voice to reply "Yes, this is my son and his midget twin". (I haven't said it out loud yet, but the line is living like a viper in my head just waiting for its awesome smart-ass delivery someday.)
Having a baby brother proved to be the single most annoying thing we parents could have done to our oldest child. Actually, it wasn't so bad for the first six months until the little one started crawling around and grabbing toys. At that point it became all out war. Suddenly our older son was biting, scratching, pulling hair, sitting on, kicking and even punching his little brother. (Not all at the same time, but you get the point.) That behavior didn't stand for a second, and soon our elder boy learned that overt aggression typically ends in time-out.
Then he got tricky. He would kneel by the baby and pretend to smile and play nicely until the grown-ups would turn away and then suddenly we would hear our baby shriek, turn around and see that big brother was in the middle of biting his head or pulling his hair. This was both supremely frustrating and also a little bit funny at the same time. As soon as he'd been caught, our older son would pretend it was all a big mistake as if to say, "Who me? Oh, I was just giving the baby a little kiss, I don't know how my teeth got into his skull..." while gingerly sidling away.
The trickiness became harder for him to conceal once his little brother started talking. I believe our younger boy's first full sentence may well have been "(Brother) MEAN, (Brother) HIT ME!!! NO HIT ME!!!" That said, the second one has always been a laid back little guy and quickly learned to be a master manipulator as well. Sometimes we would catch him as a toddler pulling his older brother's hair, hard, and then crying loudly before his brother could react ~ mainly so that we would all turn around just in time to see the big guy pummel him back.
Since the role of household strong-man had been snapped up, our younger guy adapted quite readily to playing the victim and developed an impressively annoying blood-curdling shriek. Here is a fairly typical hourly exchange:
"What happened honey? Are you hurt?"
With eyes like saucers brimming with tears and a quivering lip... "BROTHER made a mad face at me!!!"
Well, it's been a long three years, six months and seventeen days since these boys met (but who's counting) and the story of their rivalry hasn't ended yet. They have refined their strategies and tactics, but there isn't a day that passes without me having to pull one of them off of the other. About six months ago they actually drew blood when punching each other in the face, first the little one on a Saturday followed by his big brother the next day. Definitely not our finest weekend as a family.
Which is why the night meetings are so amazing.
The night meetings are a secret.
The night meetings take place after bedtime.
The night meetings can only be attended by brothers.
I stumbled across a night meeting for the first time shortly after we moved into this house, about a year and a half ago. It was about ten pm and I was bringing some folded towels upstairs when I heard little voices chatting amiably. These little voices were foreign to me, as there was no screeching, yelling, whining, bossiness or tension at all. These were the sweetest little voices you can imagine.
"Are you still awake?"
"Brother, it's going to be my birthday!"
"I know. And then my birthday is next month. But do you want to know the most amazing thing?"
"Do you know when our mommy's birthday is?"
"Our mommy's birthday is at CHRISTMAS. It is December."
I stopped short, unwilling to interrupt one of the only civil dialogues I had ever heard the two of them share. Sitting down on the stairs in the dark, I listened. For almost an hour they chatted with each other about their days, their toys, their friends, mean kids at preschool, and us - their parents. It was so pleasant and polite, I fairly well had to pinch myself. I didn't want to move or make a sound, lest they hear me and stop talking.
At the time I thought this was an anomaly, a rare and special occurrence. Over time though, my husband and I would hear them tiptoeing around in the dark upstairs or stumble upon them late at night looking at books together. We began to realize that while our sons make a career of hating each other by day, they have an entirely different relationship by night.
Then one day as I put them to bed, I saw the big one give the little one a sneaky wink. The little one piped up, "Don't forget the meeting!" and then he giggled wickedly.
"Meeting?" I asked, "What meeting?"
The two of them burst into peals of hysterical laughter. Thankfully at the ages of five and three, neither of them can keep a secret.
"WE HAVE SECRET MEETINGS AFTER YOU THINK WE ARE ASLEEP!!!" they chortled.
"Oh yeah? What do you do at these meetings?"
"We play with our GUESSING BOOK!"
"Guessing book? What's that?"
"It's the Way Things Work book mommy! We look at the pictures and guess how the machines work!" As if to further explain, they then tugged the rather thick and heavy book out from under the toddler bed in their room, and proudly displayed the machine they were currently 'figuring out' - a contraption full of ropes and pulleys.
Readers, if I tell you that my heart melted on the spot, I think you'll believe me. Just the thought of my little boys chatting and dreaming together about how the large loud world around them functions and where they fit into all of it... pretty much the stuff mommy dreams are made of.
Now that we're wise to the night meetings, my husband and I make a special effort to get our boys to bed earlier at night. We want them to be well rested for school the next day, but even more than that, we've agreed to tacitly encourage them to spend this quality time together in a format where they feel unfettered by the need to impress us or compete for our attention. We always make sure to tell them, "Now go to sleep and no meetings tonight!" before we tuck them in, with a big smile, just so they will have the sense that getting together to read and talk is a fun little rebellion for two.
I always wanted a brother or sister close to my age when I was growing up. I adore my own brothers and sister but they were all mostly grown and out of the house by the time I was a small child.
We love that our sons have discovered a secret joy in each other, that despite all of their pomp and bombast, they know the constancy and strength of a friendship bound by blood. Deep down, my husband and I both feel that by creating this family and giving our children multiple siblings to love and hate, hit and hug, cry and giggle with... we have given them the blessing of a lifetime.
Sixty years from now, my two boys and their sister may be the only people left who still remember my husband and I when we were fairly young and full of plans for our future... and who can help each other recall what it was like to be a child in our home.
So boys if you're reading this someday, the meaning of life in today's article is pretty simple -
There's nothing like a brother. Or a sister.
Family is important.