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One down, one to go

October 6, 2014

I’m nursing a cold, which might explain the horrendous mood I’ve been in for days. Nothing is right, everyone vexes me, the bit of writing I’m working on continues to be a boring, incomprehensible, long-winded piece of shit–you get the idea. Tonight I went running, the first real fall run of the year, and came home and sneezed for about forty-five minutes straight. My younger son is upstairs with his best friend, who is also my best friend these days. He’s an adorable child, lives right behind us, comes over constantly, hung around listening to me talk about the cultural differences between the ancient Greeks and the Roman Empire (what? He brought it up) for half an hour after supper tonight. “I like it here,” he said, when my son begged him to come upstairs and play Wii. “It’s peaceful, and I like this music.” (Beethoven was on the stereo.)

Also? He raves about my food.

His mom, for the record, acts quite surprised when I tell her how wonderful and polite and charming and helpful and sweet her son is. She tells me he’s actually quite a pill; she reports that in their household, it’s my son who’s the favorite child. “He’s so patient, and he always pitches in with the younger kids without being asked. And he thanks me for everything, and asks me about my day, and I swear he’s a good influence on everyone else. We love having him,” she says.

It works out pretty well, in other words. Because my younger son, without his brother, seems to be at loose ends.

Going from two kids to one–going from any number of kids to one fewer kid–is always a relief. Squabbling ceases, there’s less food to buy and cook, fewer dishes to wash, less laundry, fewer bodies lying about, less noise, fewer people talking. The first month or so my older son was off at college, all I could think about was how streamlined my life felt. I had just gotten back from a whole month in which I had to cater to nobody but myself–a whole month during which my most pressing decision every day boiled down to whether I wanted a burrito or a sandwich for supper. Coming home to only one set of demands felt like a reprieve. Back to school with only ONE kid? One soccer schedule? One back-to-school night? I hadn’t had things so good in twelve years.

And after the sensory deprivation of being gone for a month, only having the quiet kid seemed like a blessing. No one was following me from room to room yakking. No one flopped down on my bed at night and told me every single thing that had happened to him in the last twenty-four hours. Or yammered about the play he’d just read. Or the weird thing that happened in philosophy class. Or what his best friend said that was so damned funny, which usually WAS so damned funny, so that I’d go to bed every night in a good mood, having ended the day by laughing helplessly and shooing my big hilarious kid out of the room, because it was BEDTIME, dammit.

The little one is twelve. Seventh grade. He’s a mysterious little creature. He takes himself extremely seriously these days. I can’t tease him, really, because he’s quite sensitive about…well, about everything. The jokes he thinks are funny are things I don’t really get. His friendships are fraught–there is some big social kerfluffle occurring at school, and I can’t wrap my head around it, and he won’t really give me the lowdown–and his personality, at this stage, is muted under layer after layer of self-consciousness. He won’t really allow himself to be silly. He’s obsessed with his hair. He’s still sweet to me–it’s rather heartbreaking, actually–and still sleeps with a stuffed bear, but he’s all full of himself during the day in some weird prepubescent insecure way.

He’s never been out from under the shadow of his big brother in his life. I said to him, at the end of the summer, “Well, I had six years with just him before you were born, and now he’s off to college and I’ll have six years with just you before you go to college!” He liked that, and has repeated it several times.

As have I, in my head, with decidedly mixed feelings. Six more years. What was I thinking, having them so far apart? Eighteen years of childrearing down, six to go. We’ll hit our stride, I’m sure, but we haven’t quite hit it yet.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. NancyK permalink
    October 6, 2014 4:03 pm

    Hope your older son is enjoying college! Thanks for the update.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      October 6, 2014 8:58 pm

      He is, he really is! Though, as I’m sure you gathered, we actually miss him quite a bit around here.

  2. October 6, 2014 6:46 pm

    This was so sweet and interesting to read, seeing as my oldest is twelve. The idea of her growing up and moving away still feels like a knife to my heart at this stage. There will be a lot of adjustment over the next several years for all of us getting to that point.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      October 6, 2014 9:00 pm

      It just kind of happens, you’ll see. I adore my older son, and he’s so much fun to be around, and I miss him, but it was totally time for him to go. It helps that he’s so happy at school. And actually, he’ll be home in less than two weeks (Fall Break? What is this newfangled Fall Break?). And then there’s Thanksgiving. And then Christmas, which lasts for something like thirty-five weeks. He’s not really gone, not yet, anyway.

  3. Frances permalink
    October 6, 2014 9:44 pm

    My younger son is twelve, and he sounds very much like your twelve-year-old. My little guy is nothing like his big brother, who is prickly but not all that sensitive, and I’m having to train myself to pay more attention, be tender when needed, and have a stone-cold heart when necessary. Sometimes the twelve-year-old cries because he doesn’t want to do something (for instance, play in a baseball game where he will end up striking out six batters in a row, although he doesn’t know this is what’s going to happen, all he knows is that his stomach hurts and it’s Friday and he’d rather stay home and play Madden 14) and I have to suck it up and tell him to get his stuff, it’s time to head to the field. His older brother wasn’t social; the twelve-year-old can tell me what’s going on with everyone in his class, and what’s more, he *cares* about it. Also, he cares about his hair. This slays me.

    Anyway, yeah. I hear you. And I’m glad you’re back blogging.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      October 7, 2014 9:04 am

      Oh, man, we have the same kid, right down to the hair obsession. It reassures me greatly to hear this. And let me know just HOW you manage the necessary tenderness/heart hardening, please, in future comments should you be so inclined. I feel very seat-of-the-pants in my approach, am struggling to figure out a whole new way of being with this particular kid. The other one was–well, not EASIER, just different.

  4. October 7, 2014 3:20 am

    I am glad you’re back too! And also JEALOUS about the 6 years to go thing. I know I know, you’re paid your dues, yada yada, but still… all I see stretched out ahead of me is 17 more years of squabbling (them) and dementia (me). I think it will be lovely tho, once you get into your stride. Watching as your boy becomes the man he’ll be, and being able to enjoy (or endure, depending on the day I guess) it fully without other family members demanding things from you (alltheeffingtimefortheloveofGod). Anyway. Welcome back!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      October 7, 2014 9:08 am

      It is peaceful with just one. On the other hand, it’s very…concentrated, if you know what I mean. No other people to take the edge off. It’s the whole dilemma, isn’t it–all at once or one at a time? I opted for one at a time, because my older son was so high maintenance when he was younger that I simply could not fathom having another kid AND him (and grad school, and a husband who was never home, and no money) all at once. But I always thought I’d have three kids, and the six and a half year age gap put the kibosh on that.
      My friends who had a whole passel of kids close together suffered massively when the kids were little, but oh, how things have smoothed out for them now that they’ve grown up. And they’re DONE. Whereas I have miles to go before I sleep. It’s all perspective, lassie!

      • October 7, 2014 9:50 pm

        My sister had her third 11 years after her second. Just sayin’…

        • irretrievablybroken permalink*
          October 10, 2014 12:22 pm

          Fie on you, Reluctant Launderer! That’s…that’s just evil.

  5. ivfcycler permalink
    October 21, 2014 12:32 am

    thought of your blog when i read the nyt review of new berryman book which declared his poem mr pou and the alphabet one of the great divorce poems. since your blog is one of the great divorce blogs 🙂

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      October 24, 2014 1:58 pm

      Thank you! I read this review too, and was half horrified by the excerpt from the poem. It made me too sad even to read those few lines. This isn’t a dismissal or even a critique…more a testament to their power, I suppose.

      • ivfcycler permalink
        November 6, 2014 3:37 am

        i suppose almost by definition a great divorce poem is going to contain great sadness.

        if berryman had had joint custody, i bet the poem wouldn’t have ended up so powerful.

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