We’re working to settle into a school year routine.
We’ve got soccer practice on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and by evening I mean five o’flippin’ clock, so I’m usually making dinner while on a conference call. As we always end up with Thursday evenings, the boys will miss the first few months of Children’s Choir, cheating us out of our one hour Thursday night dates. Homework gets done right after school. Right now it’s the easy stuff: read for 15 minutes, go over the math facts you already know, do this worksheet that is eleven billion times less complicated and less interesting than the workbooks your mom made you do over the summer. We try to get outside to play, to ride bikes, to take a walk, to go on a run, to breathe the fresh air while it’s still warm and inviting and not bitter and depressing.
We haven’t quite gotten used to everything just yet. We’re forgetting to do some things, clinging still to others we’d rather be doing, but we’re getting there… slowly and together.
With that comes the return to our library trips.
With the end of summer came the frenzy of “let’s go do all the things.” And so I just renewed the books we had online or dropped off any that simply had to be returned that millisecond. We didn’t make time for browsing aisles and looking up new series on the computer and sitting at the tables while mommy walked the aisles, running her pointer finger along the spines.
Tuesday will be our new library night. The library stays open until well after our early dinner hour. Chores can be finished up, books rounded up, and everyone piled into the car with the sun still shining… for now.
I made them stop at the new books shelf in the children’s section before setting them loose on their own. I like to help them find new books or series or interests before they go off in predictable directions: Pokemon, Star Wars, Puppy Patrol/Place, Hardy Boys Secret Files, anything super hero, and so on. I grab a book here and there and toss it in their bags; this month the library featured a shelf on the solar system, complete with worksheets, so I grabbed two books and some papers for their bags. I never tell them that a book is too old or too young for them. I let them sort that out at home.
At one point, they both wanted a pair of books in a series. The third and fourth book. While all of the books we borrow from the library sit in the same place in our house while we have them checked out, there’s always a “claim” over the one each boy checks out. I suggested that they each check out one of the books and switch when they finish reading. It was as if the idea never occurred to them. They both snatched a book from my hand and dropped it into their bag, moseying onward.
I grabbed some non-fiction for myself, before heading over to the Newbery winners and grabbing three, two off of Janssen’s list and one I knew I hadn’t read before. I want to get some reading in first to find some really good read aloud books before the winter sets in, pushes us inside where we curl up on the couch under crocheted afghans and read by the light of my favorite lamp. I don’t know what we’ll read together this winter, but I bet I’ll remember it forever.
Eventually, the boys made their way to the librarian’s checkout counter. BigBrother talked the one librarian’s ear off about Pokemon. Bless her, she carried a quality conversation on the subject; she must love a child that loves some Pokemon, that’s all I can figure. The boys carried their bags to the car, never once complaining how heavy their bags felt as that is the price you pay for being able to select as many books as you so choose. By the time I got myself in the car and buckled, they both planted their noses firmly between the pages of their book picks.
The ride home was silent.
Oh, these two.
They spent nearly every single day together during our summer break. Sometimes one got to go to the store while one stayed with the other parent. Sometimes they got to go to baseball practice without the other one or got to sit with us during the other brother’s game. But mostly, it was all togetherness, all the time.
By the time the school rolls around, they’re ready for a little time apart. A little more time to be themselves in their own spaces doing their own things. They had been doing a lot of going to their rooms without being sent there to read or draw or play alone. I knew they needed a break from the brotherhood, from the constant presence of their best friend. They needed breathing space.
And now they’ve got it.
But from the time they walk in the door, they don’t stop talking to each other. About their day. About their recess fun. About the books they’re reading. About running downstairs in the morning to build something with LEGOs in the playroom. It’s as if the sum total of twelve hours apart in two days time was all that they needed.
In related news, somebody in this house is awfully sad that her boys get on that big yellow thing in the morning again.
Despite the fact that summer-like temperatures are finally rolling into our area, our summer ended today. The boys went back to school, starting first and third grades. First and third grades. First and third grades.
They’re both very excited. We met their teachers and checked out their classrooms last night at back-to-school night. We dropped off their heavy, filled-to-the-brim (reusable) bags of school supplies. I talked with teachers about things I need to talk to teachers about: hearing loss, reading levels, test anxiety, how much I love my kids, omg, how I’m available to volunteer if you give me more than a day’s notice since I work from home, and so on. The boys walked around and read the names of their classmates, finding friends from last year, years prior, teams, and other programs we’ve been involved with over the years. They started to breathe easy; my panic lessened when I put a face to the name of the two women I’d be entrusting my children to for most of the day, five days per week.
This morning brought a surprise, with LittleBrother up first and BigBrother still snoozing until I woke him up around 7:20. The latter might be due to the fact that someone felt too excited to fall asleep last night and got out of bed eleventy billion times to ask us questions, to make statements, to come up with any number of reasons to talk to us about absolutely anything. They rushed through breakfast, rushed through their personal stuff, got dressed quickly, and put their backpacks on by 7:45 this morning.
We didn’t have to leave the house until 8:35.
By the way, both boys acted as if the fact that we drive them to school on the first day of school every year was the stupidest thing ever. So my husband, ever the sport, informed them that we would drive them on the first day of school. Forever. Clear through their senior year. Not having full concepts of time, being only six- and eight-years-old, BigBrother gasped.
“Even in fifth grade?”
“Even in fifth grade.”
We parked in the overflowing parking lot, and walked our two boys toward their beloved school. The Principal stood outside, greeting students as he always does. He hugged my boys and welcomed them back for the year, calling them by name. Again, my heart eased a bit more.
BigBrother gave us a side hug and headed off toward the Big Kid wing while we walked LittleBrother to his classroom. We asked him to lead us to his classroom so we would know he could find it tomorrow when he rides the bus to school. He had no trouble finding the classroom door with the colorful fishes all over the door. He offered a quick hug and hurried in to join his classmates. I waved at his teacher; she waved back.
And then I turned and walked back down the hallway, out the door, and to the car.
I sniffled a little, but didn’t have time to dwell on the sadness I felt in sending my boys away for most of the day for the next 180 school days. My husband and I ran a rather challenging four mile run around the city, and I felt a bit better when we ended up back at our car. But the day wore long, and the silence of the house left me feeling unnerved. No one interrupted my work once. No one burst into my office dressed as Buzz Lightyear or Hobbes or Waldo or Batman or a super hero or even just as a kid asking for a snack. Or even just as a kid who wanted to be near me, in my space, with his mommy.
I sighed a lot today.
Eventually they came home to find presents waiting for them: new books, of course. BigBrother got the newly released Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, the final book in the Origami Yoda series. His glee could be felt radiating from his smile. LittleBrother got Hardy Boys Secret Files #2: The Missing Mitt. He discovered the first book in the series at the Emerald Isle book store when we stopped during vacation to buy our annual four book from our favorite bookstore ever. He’s been asking for the second book for awhile now, and the first day of school seemed like a good time to receive such a gift.
BigBrother has already finished his book. LittleBrother has two chapters left. I do not know how we ended up raising readers as we have done, but I cannot complain one bit. They were delighted with their gifts and disappeared to read them as soon as they finished their after school snacks. I love them so hard.
Tomorrow they’ll wake again, get ready again, and ride the bus to school. I’ll work at home, take a run, and wonder all day what they’re doing, what they’re learning, if other children are being kind, if they’re being kind, if they’re just plain old okay. And then they’ll come home, tell me about their day, and I’ll breathe a bit easier once again.
And then we’ll rinse repeat for another 178 more school days.
I got my first bike when I turned five. Purple, a rainbow on the seat, and rainbow colored streamers; it was the bike dreams were made of. I still remember the absolute glee I felt upon receiving that gift for my fifth birthday. But it was a little too big for me, as I was small then, always small—outside and inside. Climbing up on a bike that was bigger than me and learning to ride it felt too big, too scary.
So I didn’t.
By the time I turned seven, my uncle decided enough was enough. Now remember that I grew up on a farm. Riding your bike in the gravel and the grass isn’t the easiest task, especially when you’re learning how to balance, how to steer, how to get back up when you fall down, gravel stuck in the heel of your hand, the cap of your knee. He worked with me all day, holding on to the back of that rainbow seat, pushing me back and forth on the driveway, in the grass; back and forth we went, back and forth he kept pushing.
I eventually learned to ride my bike. As a teenager, I even had a ten speed that I would ride down the hill to grandma’s after my parents built their house up on the hill. I could ride back up the hollow to our house, legs strong as country legs usually are.
And then I didn’t ride a bike for a really, really long time.
A few years ago, I asked for a bike for my birthday. Mint green and old lady looking, it was the bike of my grown up dreams. I figured I needed a bike so I could ride with my boys after we taught them to ride. BigBrother learned at the local city park as our old house didn’t offer a safe place to learn to ride. I didn’t get to ride my bike with him at the time as he learned during the two years of my back injury. Once we moved to the new house, I rode down our street to the cul-de-sac and back, again and again, as he learned to ride his “big” bike.
LittleBrother is learning now on the street in front of our house. I walk behind him, holding the back of his seat, encouraging him to balance and steer, and letting go. He goes a little way before he puts his foot down or steers off into the grass. He’s not scared to steer into the grass, to make a mistake, to put his foot down if he feels unsure. He just keeps on trying, me following along, back hunched with a proud smile on my face. We get to the end of our half block and walk his bike back, as we both deemed the slight uphill a bit too much for the first week of learning. Once back to our own driveway, we start again.
As we worked on all of this practicing this week, BigBrother decided to start working on the bigger hills that sit on the otherside of our driveway—one big downhill, one big uphill. He’s left them alone until now, but he’s feeling braver having watched his friends ride them all summer. And so off he went, down and up and almost there and off the bike he got to walk to the top of the hill, to repeat the process in the opposite direction.
I stood in between the two bike riders, the evening sun of late summer resting on my shoulders, forcing to me to shield my eyes as I watched the older one coast down one hill to pedal up the other.
“Mommy, pedaling up hills is hard. Can you do it?”
I didn’t know. It had been awhile, having only ridden the straight stretch of our little street with BigBrother while he got the handle of riding it on his own.
“Let me see.”
I pulled my bike out of the garage and set down the hill. As I pedaled up the next, I realized how many different muscles bike riding uses than running. I felt each push of my foot deep in my thighs, burning and making me want to push harder. I got to the top of the hill and did a circle to come back down the hill, up the next.
And then I kept right on riding.
I biked down the street, around the cul-de-sac, and up a hill. And then up another hill, my pedaling slow, each push using all of my might. I rounded a corner and went up another hill, finally cresting to ride some flat, the breeze and the sun pushing me onward. I coasted down yet another hill, pushed up another, and eventually made my way home. I rode my bike 1.6 miles. I’d never ridden my bike that far before; not while learning, not when I took my bike to a friend’s house and couldn’t figure out how to stop on a downhill and crashed into a metal trashcan, not when I rode down to Grandma’s house and back.
I felt proud. Like BigBrother did with his hills. Like LittleBrother did with each attempt, each distance that went a little further. They were pretty amazed, too.
“You rode your bike around the whole neighborhood? That’s so awesome!”
Years in the making, it was so, so awesome—and inspired by two little boys who challenge and push me to be bigger and better and more awesome every single day.
I felt really guilty about leaving them for the weekend.
No, no, that’s not right. I still feel really guilty about leaving them for the weekend. It’s complicated and messy and full of self-doubt and grief and questioning the Universe as to why things are the way they are. Of course, feeling guilty about it now, after the weekend has ended and no one seems any worse for the wear, is absolutely pointless.
While I was wallowing yesterday, I wondered if my husband’s stepmother posted pictures to her Facebook of the boys over the weekend. I hadn’t checked, as I had been busy posting my own pictures to Facebook and living “in the moment,” trying to memorize the shape of my daughter’s face or the sound of her voice. I thought of my sons often, but I knew they were being cared for, knew that my husband was in charge of checking in as need be.
Sure enough, pictures had been posted, and I scrolled through looking at their happy faces, the joy of being a grandson spending a weekend with grandparents who own a boat. The joy of summer and sun and water and laughter. The joy of being brothers on a weekend adventure. A tear slid down my cheek as I saved each to my phone.
The brothers each presented a different reaction when I told them that I spent the weekend with their sister—without them. LittleBrother went the sad route. BigBrother took the royally ticked off route. Through gentle discussion, smart use of examples, and a prayer that, ohmygod, please let them understand, they eventually came to a place where they were okay with what happened. I explained that just like they have “boys only” weekends with their dad, I had a girls only weekend with Munchkin. They accepted it, but I’m on their list right now; they’re joined together in their disgruntled dislike of their mother right now.
There will be more of that feeling in the years to come, to unite them, to give them stories to hopefully look back on some day and laugh. Hopefully.
“I think I only took one picture of the boys together this week. I have nothing to share, nothing to write about brotherhood.”
Then I scrolled my phone.
It’s amazing what you forget happens in just one week’s time. Or, like, a day’s time. I could blame someone else, but the truth is that I’m so caught up in smooshing ALL THE SUMMER THINGS we want to do into what little time we have left, I’m struggling to remember the awesome of what we’re doing.
In the backyard.
We didn’t go camping at all last summer. The boys noticed, and were sure to let us know that they noticed. So we started out this summer full of camping intention. And then one thing after another happened, days came and went, months passed, and we found ourselves looking down the slippery slope of two weeks left before the school calendar once again rules our daily, weekly, monthly lives. With our work schedules, packing up and heading to one of our amazing state parks in Ohio didn’t seem do-able.
So we pitched a tent in the backyard. Without telling the boys.
They came outside, after having been told we’d be doing something fun that night, and nearly tripped over their glee.
They thought it was the best thing ever.
They went and got pillows and blankies and Hobbes. They found their flashlights. They asked 87 billion questions. And then they went to play in the settling dusk, chasing lightning bugs, playing flashlight tag, tripping over the dog, and having a blast.
You see, these two brothers have a rather early bedtime even in the summer. While they don’t have to wake up and go to school, we (the adults) have to wake up and work. Things still need to be done. Life still has to happen even if the school bus doesn’t arrive in the morning. So they are always the first kids in the neighborhood called inside, washed up, pajamafied, and sent to bed. They read past our nightly prayers and into the darkness, but they don’t always get to watch the sun set, the darkness fall. We have special nights out, but it’s not a regular occurrence.
So that night camping in the yard was really something special for them.
And for us, as the parents.
The slow down, the roasting marshmallows over the grill, the laughter of little boys in the dark, giving away where they’re hiding, the dog confused as to why we’re outside and what a tent is. We eventually sat on the deck as the boys attempted to fall asleep in the tent. For awhile, the giggles and snort-laughs followed jokes about cutting the cheese. Then the laughter gave way to whispers, words not discernible over the hum of late summer locusts. And then… silence.
Little boys… brothers… best friends, asleep.
And really, it was the best camping trip ever. Wifi and bathrooms, the latter of which made for a faster trip at 1:44 AM when LittleBrother decided he had to go. RIGHTNOW. And then the sun rose in our back yard, waking both me and my husband before the boys even stirred.
Eventually they woke up, “ordered” breakfast, and we shuffled them inside for cereal and air conditioning. For the rest of the day, they chattered about how fun the camping “trip” had been, how they want to do it again, how they wanted to do it that night, how much fun it is to play in the dark, and on and on.
Win, for both brothers and parents.