Years ago, when I was still trying to decide whether or not to add a third child to our family (never mind a fourth), I attended the wedding of two dear friends in Chicago. The bride was the baby of her large family, the groom the middle of three brothers. It was the speeches that got to me that thick summer night in a museum gallery in downtown Chicago, particularly those of the groomsmen: the brothers roasted the groom with love and laughter, using the language and the memories only three brothers could know. As they spoke, I could feel strings of family and love pulled taut throughout the room, and they moved me. I wanted that for my boys, then only ages 4 and 2. I wanted them to be entwined with family, to know private jokes, to have each other's backs, to share a common language. The following fall, we conceived our third son.
Yeah. Well. That pretty picture is not exactly the scene I see every day in my home. I still have hope that someday, my kids will have that camaraderie I saw at my friends' wedding, but most days, it's nowhere to be found. I have three boys with three very distinct, often conflicting, personalities. Instead of having each other's backs, my boys often sport scratches and bruises courtesy of each other. They sometimes throw video game controllers at each other. They often say mean, hurtful things to each other -- reckless but calculated words that I know cut to their cores and leave marks on their hearts. They fight over food, over video games, over favorite spots on the couch. It's less like The Cosby Show around here and more like WWF. The fighting can be miserable; this morning, one brother actually pried a piece of turkey bacon from another's mouth. (Brothers, I have found, fight over food. A lot. As if we didn't have, oh, twenty more pieces of turkey bacon at the ready.)
I don't want to push my kids to love each other. I don't believe that closeness can be manufactured. Instead, I try to foster it through shared experiences. But I come from a family of two children, as does my husband, and we are winging it (big time) when it comes to raising four children in one household. We don't always know how to perfectly execute "fair" when there are so many competing needs and wants simultaneously. I've resigned myself to the fact that I will never be able to make everyone happy all of the time. Also, that my kids will likely need therapy.
One day this week, we had a crazy afternoon. My oldest had to complete a big math project and a mound of other homework. He went to flag football practice at 5 p.m. My second boy had flag football practice at 5:30 p.m. in a different park. After I dropped him off, I took my younger two kids to the grocery store -- my THIRD grocery trip that day, if I was keeping count, and I was. I waded through the store with a hungry 5-year-old and a stick-a-fork-in-her done baby, and then I rushed home to drop the groceries in the kitchen before hopping back in the car to pick up my oldest from practice. We ended up parked outside the park where my second boy was finishing his practice. Everyone was exhausted, hungry, sweaty and dirt-streaked, including me.
I was sitting in the front seat of my minivan, holding the baby and trying to keep her entertained for the last 10 minutes before we could grab the final child and go home for dinner. My oldest sat in the third row sulking because he couldn't believe he was being made to wait for someone else, especially his little brother. My littlest boy was leaning out the middle window, using the outside of my van as a drum set. It became background noise to the point where I barely even noticed it:
He kept beating, rhythmically, staring out into the dusky sky, while I watched the baby manically pull and push buttons and knobs on my dashboard, setting the windshield wipers on, activating my turn signal. Suddenly, I noticed that the drumbeat had an answer:
What in the world? I turned my head over my shoulder, and beyond my youngest boy, I saw my middle son walking toward the car, a water bottle in one hand, his mouthguard dripping out of his smiling mouth. He beat the bottle into his hand:
I saw the boys' eyes meet, and a smile turned up the corners of my youngest boy's mouth. He opened the door for his brother, who lumbered in, sweat glistening around his eyes, and dropped himself in the third row. We were ready to go.
It was a small moment, but I felt it completely. These boys don't often cough up love for one another, but when I catch these fleeting gestures -- one boy calls, the other answers -- I feel the strings pull taut. I think that maybe, just maybe, I've managed to give them a family. In the next breath, one might throw a cleat at the other's head or blow up his house on Minecraft, it's true. But I have hope that while each boy definitely marches to his own drumbeat, once in a while, they might march side-by-side. They might even sometimes answer the other's call in a language they will know from their shared childhoods. One day, I hope they find refuge and reassurance, strength and love, there. For now, I'll take the fact that they all laugh at the same potty jokes as a good sign.
The love between this dog and this boy is as pure as pure love comes! Jackson and Mickey Dog. Best friends forever!!!!!
These two pictures are of our daughter Julia (9 months old) "talking" to her Daddy over Skype while he was deployed to Afghanistan.
It was taken two years ago by our friend. It was actually not planned and she just caught the shot as I was stealing a kiss.
Love at first sight! This was taken 2 days after she was born.
This photo is from September 2010. I had just shaved my head for St. Baldricks in honor of my son Levi, pictured. He was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer (Medulloblastoma) in 2004 when he was only four. Surgery to remove the tumor left him mute, paralyzed and incontinent. He relearned all his life skills while undergoing multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and intense radiation. He is my hero.
This photo is at our wedding day, our daughter ran up to be with us at the alter.
My 6 year old Lucie with her then 5-days new little brother Eliot. Her expression was not posed, I had wanted her to look at the camera but he did a little sigh in his sleep and she said “aww” and turned her head towards him and closed her eyes. I teared up as I clicked the shutter, so magical.
Baby brother's first haircut
This is my definition of love. Sister love.
Here are my two "everythings"-kissing me!!!
My 9 yo and Kira. A rescue from the Austin Humane Society.
Taken at the homebirth of my daughter, Lucy Nova, on 1/9/09 with her brothers Parker and Simon present and eager.
This is my son and his new born baby sister
The attached photo is of my 3-year-old twins, Petra and Ivan. They're both on the autism spectrum, but Ivan's powers of speech are far more advanced than Petra's, and on some level he seems to know this. He makes sure she's not overlooked when we're doing family things, and occasionally takes her hand to walk with her when we're out. If she pulls away he reaches out to grab her hand again, to make sure she doesn't get left behind!
This is a picture I took of my son and daughter while hiking.
Brothers and sister through adoption.
Carly helps little sister Brooklyn enjoy a lollipop. Brooklyn has a gross motor disability (Rett Syndrome) so she can't use her hands purposefully.
This picture was taken one Sunday afternoon when we were leaving Church. My daughter had been getting upset during the Mass because she was missing her Auntie who had passed away earlier that year from cancer. She told her brother how she was feeling as they were leaving. He put his arm around her, hugged her and kissed her forehead telling her that everthing was going to be alright. As they walked the remainder of the way to our car, they held hands. It was so precious. They did this all on their own. This is the true definition of sibling love at it's finest! I just walked quietly behind soaking it all in. (And of course taking a picture like any good mom would :)
JJ (boy) Mr. Teddy (the white butt) Jeter (the orange cat) Minnie (the kitten) We just had to put Jeter to sleep yesterday after 15 years of warmth and sweetness :'(
This is me and my daughter, Chelsea. If I ever doubt that I am loved, this picture reminds me otherwise.
This is a picture of my then 16 year old son and his 12 year old sister about 6 weeks after she was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. It is the first day of school and I think it's easy to see the tragic love he feels. Hope Alizah Kimlee Fuller 6/26/97 born 7/29/09 diagnosed with DIPG 3/10/10 died
My sons... love how affectionate they are with each other.
Aiden gets wrestling tips from his big brother, Ryan
This is a picture of my son, Elliot and I on his first birthday. He had just finished digging into his birthday cake and I was giving him a drink of water. We have a really special connection. I'm a single mom and he is the best thing that ever happened to me. Love!!
Caught this picture of my husband and (at the time) 2mo old son catching a cat nap. Look at the smile of pure satisfaction (love) on my son's face. Neither would have wanted to be any other place in the entire world.
Big brother (Elias - 2.5 yo) meeting baby brother (Jackson - 1 day old) for the first time.
Love is the first of many a newborn will take...first steps...
The moment I met my twins.
This image was taken moments after mom, who had been looking on, had *that moment* - that moment when you realize your entire world has changed – that moment as a new mother that takes your breath away. Her eyes filled with tears of overwhelming joy and love and got both of us, the dna photographers, and the daddy to well up – the only one not crying was the 8 day old little angel in daddy’s arms.
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