One down, one to go
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.