“Here it comes!” Jackson shouted. We heard a roar as leaves rattled and rained down from tree tops high above. The wind folded around us blowing brittle leaves. The boys raced down the street in the direction of the leaves and felt the air swirling around them. Their hair sailed up and away from cheeks tinged pink. Leaves danced across the street in a perfect funnel cloud. They squealed and screamed in unison. Soon, a calm spell arrived and we all stood and waited. And waited. And waited. Then slowly, we heard the wind rising, the trees stirring. The boys stood alert and watchful, ready to race into the next wave of leaves. “Here it comes again!” Jackson shouted. And the same joyous scene of laughter, leaves, and chasing would unfold before my eyes.
Eventually, they were worn out from the excitement and took a quick break on our neighbor’s steps. I said, “Sit close for a picture.” They scooted toward each other and this is what happened.
Of course this isn’t always how they look together. Not by a long shot. When Parker was first starting to walk, he’d waddle all around the house exploring new territory. His space was expanding and converging with Jackson’s territory. I’d watch as Parker’s wobbly legs would teeter toward an unattended Hot Wheel car. Jackson would be eyeing his movement from clear across the room. As soon as Parker’s fingers touched the car, Jackson would scream, “NOOOO! That mine car!”
Parker would startle and drop the car in his hand. It would crash loudly onto the floor below. His lips would curl downward and tears would slide along his baby cheeks. The first time I watched this scene unfold, it left me aching. I realized in that moment that I was in control of a lot less than I thought I was. I’d been marching through the world of motherhood thinking I could keep everything in order, everyone happy, everyone acting civilized. I was the director of a play that was equal parts comedy and tragedy. Now, suddenly, some of the actors were forgetting their lines. Instead of, “Would you like a turn?” I heard, “It’s mine! All mine!” All day long. I fretted. I worried. I wanted them to love each other, not spend the day establishing and reinforcing a pecking order.
I thought and thought about how I could foster love. How I could teach Jackson to respond differently. I quickly learned that though he’s physically a carbon copy of his father, he’s like me when it comes to his stubbornness. As soon as anyone tells him how to do something, he’s going to find another way to do it. And to complicate the matter, he happened to be a two-year-old. It set the stage for a great many battles. But as I slowly reconciled with the idea that I could not control everything, it made things a bit easier. It relieved me of the pressure to get life in general, just right. I would not, in fact, raise perfect children in a perfect family because as it turns out, we are blessed with a great many flaws. While brothers can love each other fiercely, they can also hurt each other fiercely. And I couldn’t always stop it or fix it or change it. So I quit my job as director and now spend most of my time watching, teaching, and loving these extraordinary wild things. These brothers.
The truth of brotherhood is that there will be beauty. And there will be heartache. All layered together over seconds and minutes and hours and days and weeks and years.
Right now, the beauty is simple in scale, enormous in heart. I see it when they grab hands to walk along the sidewalk. I hear it when I lay Parker in his crib and he calls out across the room, “Love you, Jack.” It’s there when I watch Jackson pass his favorite bear into the hands of a sick little brother, hoping it will help him feel better. It’s brothers sitting side by side as they read their favorite pumpkin book. The way they grin just before they strip down naked and race through the house with their dirty feet pounding the floor. The endless wrestling on the sofa. The peals of laughter after someone says, “pooty butt!” It’s when I’m making dinner, expecting to hear chaos, only to peek down the hallway to see brothers, side by side, driving race cars across the sofa. It’s Parker watching and copying his big brother’s every move. It’s in the way Jackson says ‘Parker bean’ as though its exactly one word and one syllable. Brotherhood is full of love.
But the heartache of brotherhood is torment. A train that gets ripped from the clutches of someone’s fingers. It’s a full cup of water dumped over big brother’s head in the bath tub. The fights over what belongs to whom and whose turn is it to go first. It’s mine. NO! IT’S MINE! The way they always want the other’s [insert any item]. It’s the screaming. The kicking. The fighting. The teasing. The way they can go from playing side by side to screaming insults faster than I can take a sip of cold beer. It’s the bossy big brother, who notices all the ways his brother falls short. You’re coloring outside the lines! That’s not how you do it. It’s the little brother’s face in those dejected moments. When he feels not good enough. Brotherhood is full of heartbreak.
As I settle into my front row seat of this unfolding brotherhood, they remind me that sometimes you’ve got to break your own rules. When the wind sings and the leaves fly, go out and play in the street. Run and feel and scream up and down the pavement, even if you’re not supposed to. They remind me that you have to embrace all the craziness that is knitted into your being. If you feel a calling to march through the house naked, waving the American flag while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, then by golly, go for it (unless you’re my husband). Do what speaks to your heart. They remind me of the sisterhood I grew up in. The excitement I felt at piling blankets on the floor of my big sister’s bedroom floor so that I could sleep near her. The Saturday mornings spent playing library and realtor or hours passed bouncing each other high on a trampoline. The laughter as we wielded a flashlight in a dark oceanside tent making shadows above as we sang a horrible rendition of “Little Bunny Fufu” to a quiet campground. Mostly they remind me of the joy it is to grow up together, through all the beauty and despite all the torment.
I’m thankful for that day the boys wandered up onto our neighbor’s steps to rest for a minute. For the moment they leaned in close together and wrapped their arms around each other just as the wind blew through their hair. They smiled together and all the world was still for just an instant. In those moments, my heart takes an extra beat and I know I’m a lucky, lucky fool to catch a glimpse of such true love. That fleeting glimpse into beauty, into brotherhood.