I meant to take our annual family portraits, including pictures of the boys individually and together, earlier in the month. But earlier in the month ran away with the rain, wind, and general fall malaise. And then any time the sun decided to shine in the evening, someone was at work or traveling or at practice or grounded for life, and no one wants to look at a picture hanging on the wall when one of the kids was currently grounded for life.
Or, maybe we do want to look at that. Maybe it would be a great lesson. “Remember that time you were grounded for life and mom took our yearly family photo and now it hangs on the wall forever as a reminder of NOT TO DO THAT EVER AGAIN?” Awesome parenting technique right there. Feel free to use it.
Whatever the case, last week we all happened to be home on evening when the sun shone just perfectly, the trees still clung to their leaves, and nary a child was grounded for life. I instructed everyone to dress in the clothes I laid out, busied myself getting picture-ready, and set up the tripod outside.
The family picture was the easiest. Getting a picture of the two boys together remains the most difficult, because they like to joke around and stick their tongues out or make fart jokes or laugh or cross their eyes (LITTLEBROTHER, OMG QUIT THAT) or generally be… kids. You know. Kids. Brothers. Little human beings who like to laugh and make fart jokes and generally be awesome. While I tolerate the fart jokes to a point (NOT AT THE TABLE, OMG), I just wanted to get the pictures taken before the sun dipped too low and we lost the beautiful golden light.
It worked. I don’t know how. I don’t remember what I threatened them with, but I got a series of pictures of them together and separately. They will hang on the wall as a reminder of the time that nobody was grounded for life and mom didn’t even scream at anyone during family pictures.
Tomorrow morning we could sleep in. We could lounge about in pajamas, eat a leisurely breakfast, and chillax like the cool kids we are. There’s no school tomorrow. So we could do that.
But we’ll get up at our normal hour and get dressed. We’ll eat a normal breakfast and get out the door a little earlier than we have been in the past few weeks since the boys stopped riding the bus. We’ll arrive at the school and sit in chairs outside of classrooms waiting to speak to the kids’ teachers.
It’s Parent-Teacher Conference day.
We’ll go even though I know, down to the percentages, what grades will be on the report cards their teachers will push across the table at us. We’ll go even though we know we have smart, well-behaved boys. We’ll go even though sleeping in and being a bit lazy on a Friday seem vastly more appealing than heading into school on a Friday morning.
We’ll go because while academics are important, one lesson we are always striving to teach the boys is one of respect. Showing up to listen to our sons’ teachers for 15 minutes is a sign of respect. And so, we go. We’ll listen to what they have to say—one boy is smart and talks too much, one boy is smart and maybe doesn’t talk enough. We’ll ask questions about what else we can be doing at home beyond our everyday involvement, our massive library, our educational opportunities. We’ll give our thanks for caring for our sons five days a week, for helping guide them in their early education.
And then we’ll go get donuts, because one report card of straight A’s and one report card of many Outstanding marks requires donuts. Obviously.
I’ve already showed you racing photos and talked about how proud I was of these two little guys for running their first ever race. I’ve told you how LittleBrother wants to run it again. I didn’t get to tell you yet how he had me hang his medal up with his soccer and baseball medals, how he asked me to find a way to hang his race bib up on his wall.
I didn’t tell you that every time I found our family in the crowds, I found the boys and their monster hats first; I always saw them first before I found any of the adults. My soul seeks them out. I zeroed in on their faces and felt as if I could run eleven million more miles just to see that smile again—just to see that look of pride on their face again.
I didn’t tell you how we all posed with our medals after my husband and I ran our races… and how it meant more to me than any medal picture I’ve ever taken or posed for in all eternity.
There’s just so much I want to remember about our family time from this past weekend. It was a good weekend for brothers; it was a good weekend for the four of us. I will hold it close for a very long time.
I can’t even with these two.
Tap tap type.
My Grandma bought this typewriter back when one of my uncles needed to write papers for college. My mom used it for the same thing. I spent hours upon hours tap-tap-typing my own stories, my own poems, my own name. Since Grandma’s passing in June, the inevitable texts of “do you want this” came in waves over the months. I said yes to various things, but definitely the typewriter.
Tap tap type.
They’ve been writing stories, both together and separately. Each boy gets so long on the typewriter to write what he wants. One is writing a new story about evil slippers, and the other is typing out a story he already wrote about super heroes. Each stands and watches the other type, pointing out mistakes or helping the other learn how to make symbols or numbers or locate the apostrophe.
Tap tap type.
LittleBrother felt so excited about the arrival of the typewriter that he wrote a story about it at school. “When I get home I am going to write on a taipy writeer. I do not no what it looks like.” I hadn’t opened the case yet to show the boys what it looked like, but he managed to draw it looking somewhat like a typewriter in the photo. Maybe he saw one in a movie or something. Or maybe a love of typewriters is a genetic trait passed down from generation to generation.
Tap tap type.
Whatever the case, they took turns without arguing. They helped each other spell words. They taught each other what the ding at the end of the line meant, how to press “power return” to get back to the start. No harsh tones, no whining. Just the sound of two little boys using their imaginations to write stories and help each other.
tap tap type.
He slipped under the covers on the empty side of the bed, and silence fell around us again. The silence let me know which kid it was, as one comes with quite a bit more verbiage than the other. We laid silent for quite some time, enjoying the peace before another day of busy life for both parents and children.
In the quiet space between our breathing, the sun started to rise.
The sky changed from a light orange to one streaked with bright pinks, purples and dark spots of blue. The change started slow and then exploded in color all at once. We watched through the open curtains in the bedroom, the walls changing color as the light poured into the room.
Eventually, I broke our silence.
“Wow, that’s a really pretty sunrise.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like that,” he replied quietly, his arms resting behind his head.
I smiled, wondering how many sunrises he’s actually seen. Or rather, how many he’s seen with intent. Not those infant sunrises, rocking in the rocking chair while nursing him, both of our eyes shut but aware of the sun lighting the room around us. I know he’s witnessed a number of sunrises as we wound our way through the Appalachian mountains on our way to the beach each summer. We leave under the cloak of darkness, shuffling them out to the car mostly asleep; they wake as the sun starts to peek above the mountain tops, ready to eat breakfast and begin talking—non-stop—for seven more hours. I don’t think we’ve rested our heads on pillows next to one another and watched as the sun turned the sky into a tapestry unlike anything we’ve ever seen or will again; even tomorrow’s sunrise will be different if he slips into bed and waits with me.
I forced myself up and out of bed to snap a picture, and then snuggled back under the cool sheets next to him. I looked at the curve of his profile, his eyes still watching the sky. I studied the shape of his nose, his chin. I wondered how much of that nose shape will stay the same, how much will change as he gets older, day by day.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked him the question I ask both boys regularly. I like to hear their answers, to see what changes, what remains the same.
He remained quiet for quite some time before defaulting to, “A firefighter. Is that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay. You can be anything you want to be.” Then I threw in a different question. “What should I be when I grow up?”
He laughed. “You’re already a grown up!”
“Oh, right. What am I?”
He thought really hard for a moment. “Uh, a blogger?”
Maybe one day when he reads back over these many words, these many pages of family memories, of dreams and goals, of who his mother was and is and might be someday, he’ll remember the bright pink sunrise we watched together in silence. No matter what he does as a job in the future, he’ll always be the boy whose face I memorized one beautiful Tuesday morning.
I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting.
I’ve been thinking a lot about raising the two children under my own roof to adulthood and what all that means. The steps to take, the words to choose, the lessons to impart. And while I’ve managed to get them to nearly seven- and nine-years-old relatively unscathed, I’m looking forward at the long journey still ahead of us and thinking, “This is too much. This is too hard. I’m going to screw this up.”
Maybe it’s because I arrive at the boys’ elementary school in the afternoon, park my car, and watch the middle school kids trickle down the hill. They’re awesome and awkward all in the same breath. I see myself in some of the girls, their long hair obstructing their view and their back-in-style knock-off Doc Martens clomping down the sidewalk. I smile and think of how awful middle school was; how I survived despite being myself.
But it’s the boys that catch me most off guard. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, puberty doing what puberty does—wreaking havoc, causing confusion and delay. I try to guess their ages, guess anything about them: what they like to do, who they might be, how they treat others. I see them interact with one another, talking with their hands and waving goodbye as they separate at the bottom of the hill. I see them talking on their phones and wonder who in their life is so important that it warrants a call before three o’clock in the afternoon; I silently hope it’s their moms.
I look at them and can’t quite fathom BigBrother being one of these kids in three years, of LittleBrother following two years behind.
All of my friends with tweens and teens parent girls, not boys. I don’t quite know what to expect or whether BigBrother will eventually stop talking (though this is very, very hard to imagine) or if I will become Enemy Number One like some mothers and daughters. Do I get to remain their favorite for awhile? Will they become sullen and silent, like we’re told boys become, or will they remain themselves as I know them now, chatty and full of exuberance for all things, everyday? Will they hate spending time with me, with us? Will they hole up in their rooms? Will they get mouthy and full of attitude like I did, or will they just shrug and walk away?
Those currently unanswerable questions aside, I just don’t understand how I’m supposed to teach them everything they’re supposed to learn, how I’m in charge of this Very Big Job. I don’t feel qualified. In fact, most days when I’m trying to manage the load of life in general, I feel vastly underqualified for the job of raising capable adults. When I get frustrated and raise my voice, when my ears get tired from the constant talking, when I can’t think of one more answer to one more question, when I just want five minutes to myself.
I worry a lot about the mistakes, those moments when I don’t say what I need to say or say something completely wrong or, maybe worse, don’t say anything at all. Will that be the moment that they remember? Will that be the moment that outshines all others? Will they forget the good things in place of all of my many faults? Will they know, without a doubt, that they are not only loved but liked? Will they know that I don’t just love them because I’m required to love them as their parent, that I really, truly like them for who they are? Will they know it’s okay to make mistakes and tell us about them?
Why yes, my anxious brain is doing a lot of over-thinking on this subject! How did you know?
I logically know this line of thinking isn’t productive, it doesn’t solve problems or answer questions. Logic and anxiety and wanting the best for your kids don’t always go together, don’t always play by the rules. I’m just overcome as of late with the weight of it all. More than fearing a random virus or accident or anything else, I fear that they won’t know how much I love them, how I’d move mountains every single day to ensure they knew my love. I’m afraid I’m already mucking it up.
I hope they know now, that they know later. They know, right? They’ll remember, right? Of course. Sure. Right.