What lies beneath

In matters of the heart, our boys are all boy. When it comes to demonstrating emotions toward each other, that demonstration usually takes the form of a punch or a blind-side tackle. Sure, they play and joke together, but when one inspires a deep feeling within another, that feeling is generally somewhere between annoyance and anger.

That’s what makes it so much extra soft and fuzzy when the moon turns blue and they show some genuine warmth for each other.

Last weekend was Big Brother’s league basketball tournament. This was the biggest tournament of the year, and he had been looking forward to it. The Thursday before the tournament, Big Brother got sick. We thought he’d be better in time, but when he woke Saturday morning it became clear he wouldn’t be able to play.

He and I were both disappointed. As he sat in his pajamas, coming to terms with disappointment and his physical discomforts, Buster took me by the arm and whispered into my ear. “Can you make him stay upstairs and you come downstairs with me?”

Big Brother didn’t look like he was going downstairs in the next few minutes, so I just went down with Buster. “Can you get me paper and a pencil?” Buster asked, leading me toward the drawing paper the boys use to make birthday cards for their friends’ parties.

I got him a piece of paper and a crayon, because crayons are better than pencils for Hallmark occasions. He sat at the dining room table and folded the paper into card form. Looking up at me, he said, “I need help with the words.”

I nodded. “What do you want to say?”

He told me his thoughts and I spelled the words for him. He wrote the letters as I dictated.

 

The best cards are made of crayon on paper.

All the words were his. Only the spelling was mine, except for the word “BAeTter” where he kind of got ahead of me. It didn’t matter. The meaning was clear.

A mouthful for a boy to say to his brother.

Big Brother came downstairs. Buster made me stand guard so Big Brother wouldn’t come into the dining room. When Buster was finally done with the illustrations, he handed the card to Big Brother with the understated, brotherly tenderness that comes with the single word: “Here.” “Here” is the most caring word in a boy’s lexicon when it accompanies a hand bearing a heartfelt gift.

Big Brother read the card. He didn’t know how to react. At last, the brotherly instinct took over. His face brightened just a bit. “That’s really nice,” he told Buster. He put the card down on the coffee table and life went back to normal.

Everything that needed to be done or said was done and said. The exchange lasted a brief instant, and that was exactly the right length for it. If it had gone longer, it would have turned fake.

This was real, and it had to be allowed to sink down underneath, where brothers keep it.

 

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The sledding hills have changed but the cold feet are the same

When I was a kid, we used to sled down the big hill behind the barn. There were two runs, neither of them safe by today’s standards. The front run was straight and long. A barbed wire fence ran across the bottom of it. The side run was shorter, but steeper than the front run. At its bottom was a six-foot drop into a creek bed. Along the edges of both runs were thorny bushes and, here and there, a small tree. It was great.

Nobody got killed, although there was at least one snow suit torn by barbed wire. The worst injury I remember was when I ran my sled into the prickers and scratched my cornea. I had to wear a patch over my eye for three days. It wasn’t even a cool pirate patch – just some cotton taped over my eye.

If it sounds like I’m just blowing hard about how tough a kid I was, I’m not. I was so shaken by the idea of wearing cotton taped over my eye for three days, I fainted right there in the doctor’s office. This was the first time a doctor made me swoon. It wouldn’t be the last.

My children don’t sled as much as I did. We don’t have cow pastures with big hills in them. We have to drive to a hill. Mommy is not on good terms with winter and I don’t enjoy being cold nearly as much as I used to, so sledding isn’t common.

I feel guilty about this, so sometimes I put on my thermal skivvies and take the boys out. We go to a park with a big hill. Devoid of barbed wire, tree stumps, and watercourse embankments, the hill is safe by 21st century standards. This is a good thing; emergency room waits are much longer than the wait for our old family doctor used to be.

The most dangerous part of our modern, suburban sledding is getting up the hill with all the other park-going kids chomping at the bit to slide down. It’s kind of like outdoor bowling.

Big Brother headed for the steepest part of the hill, but the little boys wanted to take the path less traveled. This was gentle slope with deeper snow, where sometimes gravity alone was not enough to get them down the hill. My job became to push them down the hill and then pull them back up.

the power behind the sled

This fancy sled comes with a 1-Kidpower outboard motor.

Eventually they got brave enough to try a spot where I only had to pull them back up. This was major breakthrough for my sledding longevity. I even got to ride the sled down with them once.

One thing that hasn’t changed is feet still get cold in the snow. When Buster’s feet got cold, it began the 20-minute process of collecting all our people and sleds at the bottom of the hill. It’s hard when your feet hurt but you still want to play in the snow. I remember that every bit as well as the eye patch.

Thankfulness via poetic license

Buster likes to break up the monotony of family life by sharing his vast knowledge with me.

Some of his wisdom I assume he picked up in Kindergarten: “Five plus five is 10.”

Some I hope he hasn’t: “I know two bad words. Wanna hear ‘em?”

The other day he explained a hierarchy to me out of the blue: “It goes like this: baby, kid, big boy, daddy, grampa.”

“So, what will I be when you’re a daddy?” I asked.

Without hesitation: “You’ll probably die.”

Well, that’s that then, isn’t it?

Maybe not.

Since it’s Thanksgiving time, I decided I’m going to spin this episode toward Thankfulness.

You may wonder, “How exactly do you expect to manage that?”

I’m gonna tackle this blogger style – by linking to an old post. That’s how.

In this post from five years ago, Big Brother told his friend I was already dead. So you see, this new development is quite a reprieve for me. I am very thankful to have had these five years on Earth, and maybe several more, depending upon the length of Buster’s “big boy” phase.

In fact, I’m downright optimistic now. Having gained years of life between Big Brother and Buster, I expect by the time Big Man is heard I’ll be ready to live forever.

It appears I have a long life ahead of me, albeit among rotten children who anticipate my demise (joke’s on them when they see their legacies), and that, on balance, is something to be thankful for.

Amen.

The family gives thanks for Daddy’s longevity despite its predictions to the contrary.

Kindergarten artwork – middle child edition

By the initial Fourth Grade teacher conference you mostly know what you’ve got. In our case, it’s a good student who could be a very good student if he developed discipline or a work ethic. But we who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and since I don’t want to break my own windows or menace our good student with rocks, I’ll let Big Brother skate until I can show him a better example, or learn to revel in my own hypocrisy. Either way would work.

Kindergarten teacher conferences are harder to predict. The little diamonds are still in the rough. It’s too early to know what type of diamond/quartz/shiny shard of glass Buster will turn out to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to critique his Kindergarten artwork.

Let’s not name names.

This piece took my breath away. The sentiment was so sweet. The tear I was about to shed was choked by a revelation. He doesn’t know what “thankful for” means. He thinks it’s an alternate way to say “mad at.” I shook off this terrible notion. Of course he knows what it means. They would have talked about it in class. All the other kids are thankful for appropriate things; so is he. He’s truly thankful for his brother. What a charming boy!

Now there’s only one minor difficulty.

He has two brothers.

Did he mean to make it plural? Probably not. It’s strain enough being thankful for one brother. Being thankful for both is a bridge too far. No child should be held to that standard.

So which one?

We could show it to his brothers separately, like we do when we privately tell each of them, “You’re our favorite. Don’t tell your brothers.”

No. These kids are the worst at keeping secrets when you’re trying to divide and conquer them.

We’ll just pencil in an s at the end of brother before anybody sees it. That way, the only people who will have to wonder are his parents. We won’t puzzle over the mystery of the exalted brother too long. If we had a dog, neither sibling would have made the cut. I’m not sure how they’d fare against a hamster.

Portrait of the artist as a trick-or-treater.

Self-portraits always give good insight into the Kindergartener’s mind. I know this is a self-portrait because the subject is carrying Buster’s Halloween bag. The scabs on the knees offer secondary evidence. The letters may indicate he is covering his knee wounds with International Olympic Committee Toilet Paper and he plans to shav[e] his legs. More likely he is following in the footsteps of Michelangelo, who, as every schoolboy knows, liked to practice making his letters on the peripheries of his paintings.

I wish the top weren’t stuck behind the wall bracket. I like to see how kids depict their own hair. That’s disappointing, but it doesn’t detract from the significance of this masterpiece: whatever this kid’s strengths and weaknesses may turn out to be, he draws a killer jack-o-lantern.

We’ll always have that.

Click here for a flashback to the critique of Big Brother’s Kindergarten artwork.