I’ve been taking the dog on a walk every afternoon since Ash Wednesday. It’s my Lenten activity. A one mile walk to exercise my dog, to talk to God, to breathe the air, to give thanks. The adding in of this time feels like a good choice right now.
I missed my window during school hours today due to work load and conference calls and life as it happens. I didn’t have time to take my walk until after the boys had been home for an hour. I asked BigBrother if he wanted to walk with me—down to the creek and back. He agreed.
I asked the questions I normally ask over dinner. Who did you eat lunch with today? Who did you play with at recess? How was your talking? Was everyone on green? Did anything surprise you today? He talked about his day. And talked some more.
We walked down the big hill, his little feet taking three steps to my little feet; his body not quite used to the gravitational pull of the big hill, the teeny rocks, gravel, salt, and ash of winter mixed together under our feet.
“Do you run down this hill sometimes?”
“Do you run up the hill?”
“Slowly,” I admitted.
We got to the bottom, turned around, and started back up the hill.
I started to ask him more questions.
What’s your favorite color? Green. What’s your favorite song? Oh, wow. I don’t know. I like all kinds of songs now. At first it was just “Gangam Style,” but now it’s “Wake Me Up When It’s All Over” and “Gangnam Style” and the Frozen song. What’s your favorite drink? I like lots of drinks! Soda—I know you like me to say pop, but I like to call it soda. Milk—I really like milk. Gatorade. What’s your favorite TV show? I like watching Pokemon DVDs right now.
“Why are you asking me all these questions, Mommy?”
I looked down at him. “I just want to know who you are.”
“Oh, well. That’s cool. Just so you know, I like the red Bakugan even though my favorite color is green. The red one is for fire. The green one, grass, his weakness is fire. And so that’s why I like the red one more.” On and on he went. I smiled and looked up at the sky.
I gave up a little of my alone time today, a little of my intention with my Lenten activity—but not really, I suppose. I had a God moment today, out on the road with my oldest son, my mini-me.
I am thankful.
The boys got into a fight this week, on the 16th Snow Day to be precise.
I figure the brothers might be well over all this forced togetherness, the forced inside-ness, the forced everything. I know I passed my tolerance for All Things Inside and Winter many weeks ago, so I can’t fault them for being tired, for being over it.
But I can fault one brother for holding the other brother’s arms down so hard and so long that the held down one started to cry.
I can fault the held down one for, once released, reaching up and scratching the ever loving crap out of his brother’s face.
To be fair, this physical altercation marks their first real physical fight. A push here, a shove there… sure. But never before have these two set out with intent to hurt one another, with malice aforethought. Never before have I stood before them, hands on my hips, looking down at two little guilty faces — one scratched, one blotchy and red with anger and tears.
As I related this story to various people, I heard many of the same reaction: “Brothers.” “Boys will be boys.” Along with the popular: “It may be their first but it won’t be their last.”
I loathe “boys will be boys.” I hate the way we push gender onto our children and then excuse the acts of boys in this manner. Nope. Not happening in our house. In our house, boys will be raised to respect others’ bodies — male or female, and yes, that includes your brother. Rough-housing is one thing; physical harm is unacceptable.
I sent them to their rooms while I calmed down, while I figured out what I needed to teach them regarding hands on another’s body.
Awhile later, we sat round the table as they wrote sentences — I will not hurt my brother. Ten times, which took forever for LittleBrother as this sentence writing punishment was his first ever. I talked about the importance of our own bodies, of having our own personal safe space. I talked about the importance of respecting others’ bodies, their personal safe space.
I laid down the line I’ve mumbled, grumbled, near-shouted, and whispered over the past few years. “He’s the only brother you’re ever going to have.”
They nodded. I got them a snack, feeling that the discussion and time alone and the sentences were enough for the time being. As I left the room, I heard one say to the other, “I’m sorry.” I didn’t force that apology, and so it felt like the best apology my ears ever heard.
Later in the day, I walked into the living room to find LittleBrother giving BigBrother a “head spa,” ala Bugs Bunny.
This learning process — of being brothers, sons, boys, human beings — seems hard at times, but I’m hopeful that they’ll end up getting it right.
I woke up in a really good mood today. Like really good mood. Maybe it was the sunshine or the fact that no one had thrown up in two whole days or that I slept decently or that I felt loved or a combination of all or nothing or whatever. I just felt good; I don’t argue with feeling good.
Since I felt so good, I wanted to spread the good feeling to my sons. They endured a difficult week as well, and I thought maybe some fun activities would be a great kick-off to our weekend. I started to think about things we could do together — and things we kind of needed to get done before the next snowstorm of never-ending doom descends upon us. I mixed some necessary errands — new milk since we were sick and the milk we had expires this weekend, cereal, dog food, gas — with some fun errands — picking new books at the library. I wanted to make pizza since I haven’t cooked since before we all got sick. I wanted to have a sweet treat. I wanted to watch a fun movie.
I saw it all unfolding perfectly. The boys would be so excited! I would be the best mom ever!
I got so excited, I posted the following Facebook status update:
“Friday! Let’s put away the laundry! Let’s go to the library! Let’s make pizza! Let’s make root beer floats! Let’s stay up late* watching a movie in our pjs! #LifeontheEdge (* = 8:30PM!)”
I didn’t get the laundry put away before they got home from school. But as soon as they got off the bus, I had them round up their library books and pick which ones to return and which ones to renew. Then LittleBrother threw a wrench.
“Mommy, since I’m student of the month, can we buy pizza instead of making it?”
In 2012, I started on the quest to perfect my pizza dough so that we could have a healthier, more cost effective pizza option on a weekly basis. We’ve made a lot of pizza since that fall, and while my pizza dough is amazing, sometimes a takeout pizza just tastes so amazing. I looked at him and nodded. Okay, so, no making of pizza, but still pizza! It was still going to be a great time!
Off we went to the library. And then off to the grocery store where the boys got really, really excited about the root beer floots. And then off for dog food, which was slightly less exciting and a woman who wasn’t having as good of a day as I was attempted to ruin my day for me, but I kept smiling. Then gas. Then we picked up pizza! Then we ate it! The best pizza ever!
As I cleaned up our mess (not just from takeout pizza but from a week of clutter due to all four of us being too sick to notice or care), they played some video games. When I walked into the living room to ask which movie they wanted to watch as I got some good ones at the library, they asked if, maybe instead, they could watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.
Yeah, sure, that’s fine, I assured them. We cuddled on the couch and watched (ancient) game shows. BigBrother asked me all of the questions about the shows. I answered them with a smile, because I remember asking the same questions when I was his age.
LittleBrother asked the one I still wonder: “How do they know all of these things?”
It’s hard to tell.
And then at 8:00, as the game shows ended, they decided they were ready for snack and bed. No staying up until 8:30 even. Fine, fine. I went about setting up the root beer floats. Then LittleBrother threw another wrench.
“I don’t really want a root beer float. I had one at school today. Can I have applesauce instead?”
What? You had a root beer float at school? Fine, fine. I gave him an applesauce, which is obviously the antithesis-snack of root beer float night, and enjoyed my float while BigBrother asked me eleventy billion questions about ice cream and root beer and pop and soda and words and dialect and Western Pennsylvania and Ohio and marriage and firefighters and editors and mortgages and car loans and purebred dogs versus mutts and then my ear fell off and it was time for bed.
I helped brush teeth and find jammies. I read books and tucked blankets down by the wall and kissed little faces. I said, “Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the frostbite bite,” because Frozen broke me. I sat down on the couch and thought about my Fakebook status from earlier in the day and smiled.
Our day didn’t look like my Facebook status; it was even better and as just us as it could possibly be. Accuse me of Fakebooking and I’ll just smile at you like I smiled at the mean lady who tried to ruin my day today. Today I was happy and I had a great day with my sons.
Now excuse me, I need to go put away my laundry. *
* = Nope. Not gonna happen.
On Thursday evenings, we eat an early dinner. Okay. Most evenings we eat an early dinner. But on Thursdays, we make certain to finish our dinner early so we can drive nine miles west to get the boys to our church for children’s choir practice.
They love it. I love that they love it.
Tonight, as we waited for the director to get into the practice room so I could ask her a question, I watched as the accompanist taught the boys a quick song on the piano. I watched as they joyously banged on the bongo drums, as they fake-tap-danced on the linoleum floor, as they greeted each of their friends as they showed up.
It also gives us, the parents, an hour to go out and do something by ourselves in the middle of the week. We normally stop and get a coffee, or for me, half cappuccino, half espresso roast like my dad taught me back when he drove me to voice lessons every Thursday evening. Today we went to Dollar General and bought Gatorade and Lysol to replenish our stashes after the stomach virus that ripped through our family. I took a moment to call and check on my parents. We stopped and bought some wine, because stomach virus that ripped through our family. And then we went to pick them up.
I struggle with taking them to choir. I struggle with taking them to Sunday School, which we haven’t in awhile. I struggle with teaching them about a faith that I hold near and dear to my heart. I want them to know the love that I have, the faith that I have, the joy that I have… but I desperately want to shield them from the hate that exists within the bigger church. I want them to find a faith, if they so choose, on their own, not just simply adopt the one I have so chosen as my own. Growing up in the evangelical church in the 80′s and 90′s, I saw things that make me fear for my own children. Not necessarily for their physical safety, but for their spiritual ability to discern right from wrong, faith from brainwashing, love from hate, mistakes from guilt and shame.
I can only hope that as I continue to expose them in this way while also working oh-so-hard to keep the dialogue open about all of these issues at hand will keep the door open. So that they can question, ask the harder questions that many from my generation didn’t feel comfortable enough to ask. That I didn’t feel comfortable enough to ask. It’s a fine line, a difficult one to walk as a parent; a parent with faith who was scarred by more than one leader with ulterior motives or, even, the best of intentions that lead down a path of hate.
I don’t have the answers to the bigger faith questions at large, but I hope to be the best mother I can be to these two little boys, on this topic and so many others. That’s all I can do.
And hope against hope that someday my sons’ generation will know the peace that my generation wishes existed now.
When you tell a six- and an eight-year-old boy that they can go play in the snow with just sweatshirts and hats — no snow pants and boots and gloves and giant coats — you will then witness pure joy.
The snow began to melt this week after weeks on end of snow, snow, and more snow. While the two of these brothers played and rode sleds and built snowmen and threw snowballs and otherwise did everything you’re supposed to do in the snow, they seemed equally excited at the prospect of warmer air. Of riding bikes in the driveway and down the road. Of getting out the Nerf axe and sword and attacking the forts made in part by the neighbor’s snow plow, their hands forming the rest. Of, ohmygoodness, being outside without the air burning their lungs, stinging their cheeks.
We spent over an hour watching them play, throwing snowballs with bare hands, and generally breathing fresh air.
Two days later, a wicked stomach virus started to make its way through our family. I’ll focus on this memory instead.
When I think back to the winter of 2013-2014, I want to remember the happier times. Like two little boys asking to go play outside. Like the way I didn’t really have to help them get their snow clothes on except for tying their boot laces in double knots. Like how they spent nearly two hours outside without whining or complaining or fighting or tattling.
When I think back on this long, long winter with all of the Snow Days and the scrambling and the frustration and the Cabin Fever and the other hard things, I want to remember their giggles. I want to remember how they worked together to clean the snow off the playhouse, worked together to create snowballs to throw at the dog, worked together to crush the snowman. Worked together.
I want to remember how they drank half cups of hot chocolate at the bar, clad in long johns that they still call jamma-longs.
I want to remember how disappointed they were every time school was canceled, how they found things to do together — and apart — to pass the long, long hours. I want to remember how we played fast and loose with my own schedule to create pockets of family time with the unexpected, unstructured days off. I want to remember the unsolicited “thank yous” for the bits of fun we had, the things I worked hard to create so that the difficulty of Snow Days meant less than the fun we had as a family.
Mostly, I want to remember that this season of unrest eventually ended, but we first have to get there, through these short-but-long days. We will, of course. But soon, right?
Of note: Callie doesn’t care if winter ever ends. That’s one happy dog.